A recent drive along a 1,000-mile stretch of Interstate 5 in Oregon and California proved to be quite a revelation for a young passenger. Even at 65 mph, he noticed that the quantities and varieties of food and fiber crops was staggering.
“It never stops,” he said after a few hours of travel. Having lived in Oregon’s Willamette Valley 14 years, he knew about the blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, grass seed, wheat, hay, sheep, goats and cattle that are among the commodities raised in the region. But heading south proved to be an eye-opener.
Though all 400-plus crops raised in the two states are not grown along I-5, many are. Farmers and ranchers in Oregon and California raise crops ranging from beef and dairy cattle to wheat to rice and corn.
The trip turned into a game of identifying animals and crops. Most of the livestock was easy to identify. Holstein cattle with their black-and-white markings are the “cover girls” of the dairy industry. Black Angus beef cattle are equally identifiable for the beef industry. But goats and sheep can be difficult to identify at highway speeds.
Identifying the many fruit and nut trees can be daunting. Though hazelnuts can be readily identified in Oregon, California’s many nut crops are challenging. While walnuts and almonds were fairly easy to identify, another tree that was difficult to identify — until a sign was spotted — was pistachios.
Olive trees were equally mysterious, as were many of the fruits, ranging from apricots to cherries. And don’t forget about the citrus fruits grown to the east and west of I-5 farther south.
Sunflowers were another crop that has taken its place along I-5.
But the vast quantities of food produced along the highway struck the young traveler.
Mile after mile of rice bristled against the summer sky, as the massive elevators awaited nearby for the harvest.
Processing plants awaited the almonds and other nuts. Feedlots fattened cattle. Dairies with thousands of cows produced the milk that will arrive at the dinner table along with the cheese, yogurt, ice cream and other treats that will be made from it.
Farm workers harvested melons and scores of row crops.
“I know what this is,” the passenger finally said. “It’s a food road. It feeds all of us.”
That’s exactly what it is. The crops grown along I-5, which stretches 1,276 miles from Canada to Mexico, feeds a good part of the nation — and the world.
Interstate 5 is certainly not the only “food road” in the U.S. Highway 99, which parallels I-5, is straddled by equally impressive abundance, as is I-80. Follow I-84 and I-90 eastward and through Idaho and you’ll find even more varieties and quantities, including grains, potatoes and sugar beets.
Food roads are not confined to the West. I-80 stretches from coast to coast, and I-94, I-70, I-57, I-40 and I-75 are but a handful food roads crisscrossing the nation. They are supplemented by hundreds of other interstate, state and local highways that serve as more than showplaces of American agriculture. They provide the pathway to prosperity for rural America that links farms and ranches with markets across the country or ports that connect with the rest of the world.
This network of food roads remains unmatched in its efficiency and the abundance of food it brings to the American people.
Even a kid can see that.