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A Landscape Of Abundance Becomes A Landscape Of Scarcity

Courtesy of Matt Black
"This landscape has been humbled."

Photographer Matt Black grew up in California's Central Valley. He has dedicated his life to documenting the area's small towns and farmers.

Last year, he says he realized what had been a mild drought was now severe. It had simply stopped raining.

"It was kind of a daily surreal thing to walk outside," Black says.

/ Courtesy of Matt Black
/
Courtesy of Matt Black

Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown announced the first mandatory water restrictions in the state's history, as California endures its fourth year of drought.

The Central Valley makes up less than 1 percent of U.S. farmland, but grows a quarter of the nation's food. Black says if the drought continues, it could be a problem not just for the state, but the entire country.

/ Courtesy of Matt Black
/
Courtesy of Matt Black

"What I've seen is this landscape of abundance become this landscape of scarcity," he says.

/ Courtesy of Matt Black
/
Courtesy of Matt Black

His images show a region covered with dust and tumbleweeds. "It strikes you kind of at a very visceral level to go to a place that not too many years ago was green and lush and full of food," he says. "This landscape has been humbled."

/ Courtesy of Matt Black
/
Courtesy of Matt Black

The focus of Black's photography, he says, is on documenting the drought's impact on communities that he believes rarely receive the attention they deserve.

Sheep in a denuded wheat field, Mendota, Calif.
/ Courtesy of Matt Black
/
Courtesy of Matt Black
Sheep in a denuded wheat field, Mendota, Calif.

Sheep farmers, for example, have worked in the Central Valley for generations. Now, their industry could meet its end within a matter of years, in part because of the drought.

/ Courtesy of Matt Black
/
Courtesy of Matt Black

For farmers, it's a yearly struggle to bring in these crops even under the best of circumstances. Still, he says, people aren't giving up.

/ Courtesy of Matt Black
/
Courtesy of Matt Black

"People are not folding up and moving out," he says. "They are trying to figure out a way to make it work. I think the hope really lies in that."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff
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