Gene Richards: Wood Colony should be developed – and here’s why

January 11, 2014 

NA Wood Colony 1

Orchards line Dakota Avenue in the heart of Wood Colony; there used to be similar trees in parts of Modesto that are now covered with houses.

FILE — The Modesto Bee Buy Photo

Quite a clamor has been created by the possibility of a portion of a local area, commonly known as Wood Colony, being annexed by the city of Modesto for possible future development.

Residents and farmers living in the area are resolute in their denunciation of this plan. Their arguments note that the land in question is prime soil for farming and has been their home for generations.

Everyone agrees that farmers and farms are a necessary and integral part of our lives and bedrock of our local economy. But let’s look at some of the demographics of the past century.

According to figures supplied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 1913 some 25 percent of the entire population of the United States was farmers. By 1940, that figure dropped to 18 percent, and today it stands at less than 1 percent.

Of that 1 percent, only half declare farming to be their principal occupation. Yet today, farmers produce 262 percent more food with 2 percent fewer inputs (labor, seeds, feed, etc.) than they did in 1950. Economies of scale and technology have replaced the worker but not the necessity of the product.

The future of most of the children of farmers does not lie in agriculture.

Lets take a look at how these demographics have affected other parts of the state.

In the late ’40s, when I first came to California, Los Angeles County was the leading farm producer of all counties in the United States. Today Los Angeles County agriculture produces $200 million per year (compared with $3.5 billion in Stanislaus County) and ranks 32nd among 58 counties in the state. What happened? Well, the L.A. County gross domestic product for 2012 increased to nearly $1 trillion – more than that of Switzerland and almost equal to that of South Korea.

Stanislaus County should not look like L.A. County, you say? I agree … but then I’m not looking for work.

Development does not necessarily mean paving over the land. I live on a 14-acre plot in the center of Modesto that contains 100 townhomes. The land, in 1975, was considered prime farmland. Today, this plot of land has more than 400 trees; those trees, in addition to the rest of the landscaping, dwarf the nut grove that was previously here. The environmental impact is a definite plus. Industrial development is the lifeblood of the state – like it or not – and delaying the inevitable puts an onus on our young.

If the city annexes the land it wants, the area will not be developed for at least 10 or 15 years. When the time comes, the landowners will have a choice to sell or continue farming. Money for retirement, kids’ and grandkids’ education, vacations on the beach … all will play a part in the decision. It always does.

Richards is a community columnist; reach him at columns@modbee.com.

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