NEW CUYAMA, Calif. — In the Cuyama Valley north of Santa Barbara, lush green fields stretch across the desert. Sprinklers spray thousands of acres to grow a single thirsty crop: carrots.
Wells and pumps pull groundwater from as deep as 680 feet, and the aquifer’s levels are dropping.
As the valley’s only water source shrinks, a bitter legal battle over water rights has arisen between carrot growers and the community. Residents are fighting back with a campaign urging everyone to stop buying carrots.
Along the valley’s roads, in cattle pastures and outside homes and businesses, signs and banners have sprung up declaring “BOYCOTT CARROTS” and “STAND WITH CUYAMA AGAINST CORPORATE GREED.”
The signs target two of the world’s largest carrot-growing companies, Grimmway Farms and Bolthouse Farms, which are the valley’s biggest water users.
The companies stirred outrage when they, along with several other allied entities, sued property owners throughout the valley, asking a court to determine how much water everyone can pump.
The lawsuit, filed in 2021, has left small farmers, ranchers and other property owners with staggering legal bills. Residents have accused the companies of going to court to try to secure as much water as possible, while forcing painful cuts on smaller farms.
“They’re all for themselves. It’s all about the money,” said Chris Wegis, who runs a family farm with her husband. “It’s totally disheartening that somebody wants to come in and basically destroy you for their own personal gain.”
After many residents rallied around the carrot boycott, Bolthouse Farms and Grimmway Farms recently dropped out of the lawsuit, filing requests to remove themselves as plaintiffs. Other companies that lease farmland to the growers are staying on as plaintiffs and pressing ahead with the case.
Grimmway Farms, the largest carrot grower in the world, said in an email to The Times that the lawsuit was intended to “ensure an equitable allocation of water basin-wide to protect the groundwater rights of all users.”
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