Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
Less water means a little more sugar in your fruit bowl.
From a consumer standpoint, California produce is good as can be. Despite the drought, food prices are still stable, and fruit is sweeter than ever.
According to Capital Public Radio, this year’s stone fruits—peaches, plums, and apricots—are roughly 10 to 20 percent smaller than usual, especially those grown in the southern Central Valley. It’s mostly because the trees received less hydration than usual, though spurts of warm weather last winter also helped shrink down the crops.
That actually means shoppers are getting a sweeter deal. CPR reports:
"That smaller peach this year very likely is sweeter than the moderate-sized peach of last year," says [Kevin Day, a tree fruit farm advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension].
When a crop's hydration is restricted it leads to lower water content and higher sugar content—hence more flavor.
Though you can’t always count on small fruit to taste great, Napa Valley wine growers are also reporting top-notch harvests this year. When there’s less water, the hardy roots of grape vines search deeper in the ground for moisture, creating a sweeter, more complex flavor in the berry. One winemaker told CBS News that the past few years of drought have produced “some of the best wine California has seen in nearly a decade.”
And if you find yourself in the produce aisle at certain Whole Foods locations, look for smaller, sweeter “dry-farmed” tomatoes—a centuries-old technique involving specially tilled soil and a meted-out watering.
But while crop quality is booming, quantity is elusive. Hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland are being fallowed this year. An August report from the University of California, Davis, projects California’s agricultural economy will lose nearly $2 billion and 10,100 seasonal jobs due to drought this year. And the Central Valley—“America’s salad bowl”—will continue to be hit hardest.