Learning doesn’t take a vacation

Palm Springs does not exactly leap to mind as the first place to study agriculture.

I admit to having been much more interested, at least at first, in the azure pool and bright flowers just outside the little hotel room we booked for a week of R & R.

However, as that burned-out feeling began to lift, I found myself wondering about the Coachella Valley, which seemingly could not exist in its present state without significant irrigation. You only had to walk four blocks from our hotel to see the parched desert, punctuated by scrubby plants and big boulders. What could survive out there?

Yet water sources are more significant than you might think. The valley, which reaches from Palm Springs to the Salton Sea, is fed by the Colorado River system, which feeds an underground aquifer. This source irrigates the area’s farmland, consisting of at least 60,000 acres (some sources estimate higher.) Snow melt from the surrounding mountains also contributes water.

Those acres grow an amazing variety of crops. Dates are the most dom-inant, and are celebrated throughout the valley. The region grows 95 percent of the country’s dates, as well as a breathtaking list of other food that includes citrus fruits, peppers, artichokes, pomegranates, avocados, cucumbers, peaches, radishes, spices and even grain.

None of this, of course, would be possible without irrigation. The 350 days of sunshine per year don’t hurt either, despite the wilting heat of the summers.

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I had a bit of a bias when I first arrived — that the Coachella Valley was developed as a playground for the rich and famous, and massive amounts of water were being wasted catering to tourists (including, for the time being, me.)

But being California, there are also initiatives to protect the environment and a clear awareness of water issues. There are too many golf courses, but they are mainly using recycled water. There are too many lawns for such a dry climate, but also grants to remove them in favour of xeriscaping. And much of the water goes to successful agricultural irrigation.

There might even be a few things we can pick up from those who are living in the desert and learning to conserve, since our climate has its dry years, too.

The take-away? You can learn something anywhere you go, even Palm Springs.

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