Matt Black visits the Kingdom of Dust

Sheep at dawn.  Firebaugh, California.

“Rising from the remnants of what was once a vast inland sea, California’s Central Valley is an agricultural empire unparalleled in the history of the world. It’s home to America’s richest farms and generates close to $20 billion dollars’ worth of fresh food each year, nearly half of the US supply.

The Central Valley is a thoroughly industrialized farm landscape whose once undulating plains have been tractored into table-top flatness, whose streams have been dammed, and whose lakes have been drained. Some farms have become so automated that the tractors are piloted by satellite. So much water has been pumped from the aquifers that in places the ground has dropped by fifty feet. Most tellingly, the fields are planted, tended and harvested by migrants brought in by the busload: few make more than $10,000 per year, eight out of ten are undocumented, and hardly any know the names of the farmers in whose fields they work.

From the roots of this unnatural wealth has sprung a dysfunctional society, communities whose chronically high unemployment and generational poverty have fostered social ills more commonly associated with big cities. In tiny towns surrounded by farm fields, drug and alcohol addiction is rampant, teenage pregnancies are among the highest in the nation, crime and gangs are commonplace.

Much is revealed by how a society raises its food- the one thing people both pay for and pray over- and the Central Valley tells us much about modern life. A rural distopia, it is a landscape at once rich but impoverished, industrialized but rural, inhabited but unsettled: a kingdom, but one made of dust, nourishing millions as it consumes itself.” – Matt Black

Texas migrant at his home.  Allensworth, California.

Riding to work in a farm labor bus.  Fresno, California.

96-year-old in his bedroom.  Teviston, California.

Dust storm rips off a roof.  Avenal, California.

Jobless man bathes in a ditch.  Mendota, California.

Boy with an old farm truck.  Teviston, California.

Kids at an irrigation pond.  Teviston, California.

Weeding cotton.  Allensworth, California.

Matt Black is a California-based photographer who worked as a newspaper photographer while in his teens. He attended San Francisco State University, where he studied Latin American and US Labor History.  Over the past decade, Matt’s work has chronicled the decline of traditional farming life and the rise of its modern replacement in rural California and southern Mexico, exploring the changing human relationship to land, food, and farming,

Make sure to check out more of Matt’s surveys of the California Central Valley here.

All images © 2013 Matt Black Photography