More agri-tourism than commercial farming, agriculture in the Sierra Nevada foothills comes bundled with some fabulous extras: great scenery and hospitality. Visiting a Sierra foothill ranch or winery makes for a fine family outing. The region is slightly cooler than the great Central Valley, so crops like apples, pears and wine grapes thrive.

Of course, farming hasn't always been here. During the California Gold Rush, thousands of farmers turned goldseekers crowded into these hills. At first, focused on digging the yellow metal from the ground, they failed to see any agricultural potential for the region. Then slowly, as gold became harder to find, the argonauts discovered that they could make more money selling produce to the miners than they did mining.

Although the climate is superb, early farmers found the lack of summer rainfall daunting. Elaborate irrigation systems—first using gold mining ditches—have largely solved that problem. Today California is one of the world’s most important agricultural areas, and much of that bounty is centered in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Apples, wine grapes and Christmas trees top the lists of local agricultural commodities.

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