The pride of this farming town tucked into the southern end of California's San Joaquin Valley is a crop not usually linked to one of the nation's most fertile agricultural regions.
WASCO, California The pride of this farming town tucked into the southern end of California's San Joaquin Valley is a crop not usually linked to one of the nation's most fertile agricultural regions.
Wasco grows much of the nation's domestic supply of roses, producing varieties with names such as the blood-red Lover's Lane, the yellow miniature Sun Sprinkles, and the blush-pink Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The town celebrates an annual Rose Festival, complete with a Rose Queen pageant, and a small plaque in the modest downtown tells visitors they've entered the "Rose Capital of the Nation."
Its residents now fear the fragrance of their signature flower will soon be overpowered by another scent: cow manure.
Proposals pending with the Kern County Board of Supervisors to bring 10 mega-dairies to Wasco's immediate outskirts have residents worrying that the character of their town will change soon and for the worst. The dairies, if approved, would surround the town of 22,000 with about 100,000 cows.
Dairies "don't bring that many jobs, but they sure do create a stink," said hairdresser Maria Gomez, while cutting hair in the Casa Bonita salon.
Said her aunt, Maria Espinoza: "Anyone thinking about moving here will think twice."
It's not just the smell of the cows and the flies they attract that bothers residents of the town northwest of Bakersfield. They're also afraid the tons of manure to be spread on the ground will hurt water quality and that the cows' emissions will worsen air pollution in what already is one of the nation's dirtiest air basins.
To express their frustration, a group of Wasco residents joined with several city council members to put a measure on Tuesday's ballot asking the dairies to stay at least 10 miles outside town.
They're hoping for a strong show of support, even though the measure has no legal weight. The sites proposed by the dairies lie outside city limits, giving responsibility to the board of supervisors.
County Supervisor Ray Watson said the proposal to establish a 10-mile buffer zone around Wasco is "excessive and arbitrary." He said the proposal fails to consider "the new technology and the mitigations the dairies might employ to lessen their impact."
Industry representatives said dairy farmers have improved their practices in recent years to make their farms less of a nuisance and an environmental hazard. Among the examples they cite: spreading manure in fields where it can be absorbed by crops and capturing the cows' waste to control flies and odor.
Many in Wasco remain unconvinced.
"We'd be depending on which way the wind blows," said Marina Paredes, president of the Wasco Rose Society, which brings together commercial rose growers and others who grow their own flowers. "The manure, the smells: The wind could bring that right into town."
Kern County, already home to 290,000 dairy cows, has relatively cheap land and several milk-processing plants. County officials said they've received applications from 26 mega-dairies to move to the county, adding 237,000 animals, many of them in Watson's district.
David Jones, planning director for the San Joaquin Unified Air Pollution Control District, said he is concerned by the manure, the dust, and contaminants from farms that sometimes hold as many as 25,000 cows each.
"It adds up," he said. "They're no longer the mom-pop-and-bunch-of-kids operations they used to be."
Source: Associated Press