Almond Queen: Visioning Capay’s Future

By Hallie Muller of Full Belly Farm

In March of 2011, our small community celebrated a 96-year old tradition: the official crowning of the Almond Queen. In a valley rich with history, this is a standing room-only event because it gives our community the chance to celebrate the talented and successful young women living among us. This year, six seniors at Esparto High School vied for the crown, each one an involved member of our community. The group included acclaimed athletes, accomplished public speakers, and influential leaders.

It was a tremendous evening of celebration for the queen candidates, the parents, teachers, and community leaders. A significant component of the evening is a short speech. This year’s topic was a glimpse into the future. The girls were asked to speak on the theme: “Our community is continually evolving and changing. When you imagine the Capay Valley in 25 years, what does it look like? How have the agriculture, community, and valley changed?” Answers varied, but it got everyone here at Full Belly thinking: What will the future hold for our agriculturally diverse and vibrant region?

I was born on Full Belly Farm some time ago and have been witness to many of our valley’s most noticeable changes – new farms, improved schools, and the expansion of the Cache Creek Casino. Our farm too, has transformed in the last couple of decades – barns, packing sheds, and a beautiful office have been built, orchards planted, and we grow a broader array of fruits and vegetables. If I could wish three things for the future of our valley, I would hope for the continuation of community celebrations, the preservation of farmland, and smart growth. For anyone who has not yet visited the farm, I would encourage you to come during a community-wide celebration.

The Hoes Down Harvest Festival and Almond Blossom Festival (where the previously mentioned Almond Queen reigns”) are events steeped in tradition and overflowing with community pride. These traditions give us the chance to share our valley with others while working with our neighbors. The Almond Blossom Festival is unique. Festival-goers travel from town to town throughout the Valley. With over 100 different community organizations participating, from the high school’s Future Farmers of America to Capay Valley Vision, to the local Grange, to the sports booster’s club, the Almond Blossom Festival is a tradition that would be heartbreaking to lose. I hope that in 25 years these celebrations are still providing great memories.

The Capay Valley is home to some of the richest and [most] beautiful farmland in California. It is so important that we take time to preserve this foreign soil. Recently, CalTrans has proposed the changing of the simple two-lane road to a major highway (more than triple the size of the current road), leading directly from Highway 505 to the Casino. This highway expansion, coming at a time when our state is overloaded with debt, would pave over productive orchards and vineyards and would blast through fields of alfalfa and organic produce. The loss of farmland would be immense, almost 200 acres, and the result? A faster trip to the local casino. In a time when good farmland is harder and harder to come by, it seems that preserving what we have is common sense. I hope that in 25 years the farms and ranches in the Capay Valley will still be farming this beautiful land.

My last hope for the future is for wise decision-making when it comes to growing our community. This valley is something special. It is agriculturally based, the number of small, family-owned farms is staggering, and the pace of life here is vastly different from the cities around us. It is so important to me that we maintain the feelings of community. I understand that growth is a natural and pleasant process, but I hope that we can grow in a way that allows us to hold on to our agricultural roots and strong community traditions. I hope that in 25 years our valley will be as strong as it is today – and that’s where you, our CSA members come in. With your support of the farms and CSAs originating in the Capay Valley, you help to make a better future for all of us.

For more information on how to help preserve our valley’s farmland, please visit the Capay Valley Coalition

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