The discovery of a bacterial disease in Hacienda Heights that could wipe out the citrus crop here is not as devastating a prospect for the San Gabriel Valley and Whittier areas as it would have been at the turn of the last century.
In those days, orange groves filled the Valley in particular as far as the eye could see. Though our economy had other rural aspects – some of the largest vineyards in the world, for instance – citrus was king. Prior to Florida’s dominance, especially in juice fruit, we fed the nation its vitamin C, with trainload after trainload heading East packed to the brim.
Now, from Pasadena to Covina to La Habra Heights, our citrus trees are mostly in our suburban backyards. Some of those specimens are actually left over from the commercial groves. Most are planted by homeowners as part of the landscaping – but it’s still a very edible part.
Valencias, navels, Eureka and Meyer lemons, grapefruit, tangelos, pomelos, kaffir limes, kumquats – you name it, we’ve still got the greatest climate for it.
But now, thanks to the discovery of huanglongbing, known as citrus greening or yellow shoot disease, our prize trees are in danger of dying off entirely.
We’d hate to lose our backyard, and frontyard, delight. But the fact is that citrus is still a major cash crop for California. The Central Valley has taken over from the San Gabriel. And we simply can’t afford to let citrus greening get there. Florida, where the disease is already prevalent, has lost an estimated 6,600 jobs and over $1 billion in economic activity to it.
And we can stop it. If local residents follow to the letter the quarantine set up this week by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, prohibiting the removal of any citrus fruit from the property on which it is grown unless it is cleaned and commercially packed, we can lock it down. If the CDFA comes spraying, welcome its workers.
If you are used to bringing lemons over to Aunt Jane’s, get unused to it. It’s probably best to consider our whole region a quarantine zone for two years. Just invite the neighbors in for your citrus rather than taking it out.