The Plant

Where is this? What kind of factory is it? We called it just "the plant", in short, and all of us would know what we were talking about. Since 1916, when it was established by Anthony R. Gangi Sr., in San Jose, it went under one name, until September 1, 1993 when it cut operations and later was sold to Del Monte Corporation. The name of the street, that used to run through the middle, before the expansion is: Matmor Rd., which to this day extends South of the plant. A very strange name, I think. The plant dramatically expanded during the 1970's and '80s, to the size you see in the picture above. During those years, tomato varieties were developed for mechanical harvesting, with tons / acre increasing dramatically. Harvesters were designed and built. Because of their firmness, canning tomatoes can be hauled in 6x6x4 bins, instead of the crates used in the hand-pick days. 

Originally the plant only operated during the summer season for 100 days, but later added re-manufactured sauces, like Sweet and Sour sauce, Italian sauce, Taco Sauce, and many more, outside of the processing season. The 300 gallon boxes of 32% paste were re-opened and made into these sauces. The plant handled up to 6,000 tons / day during those 100 days of operation and the whole town smelled it and heard the hissing sound of the steam, coming from the evaporators. Why all those warehouses? Operating only 100 days a year, customers do not all have the warehouse capacity to store tomato products for the rest of the year. You cannot see it in the picture, but behind the warehouses runs a railroad track, where railcars are loaded, throughout the year.

Going back to the first plant established by Gangi in San Jose, it soon expanded to Woodland and Riverbank because the plant in San Jose became surrounded by city blocks so could not expand anymore. 

There it is, the first plant, with a picture of the plant manager, always with a grin on his face! The plant was blocked in by city streets, so to get to the office, you had to cross a busy street, and behind the office a freeway emerged. I am telling this, because the plant is long gone; replaced by apartment buildings. 

Do you remember the advertisement?

All that is left of Contadina today, is an office in San Fransisco, which purchased the name and has its products made by other canneries, just like Contadina used to pack tomatoes, and tomato paste for Safeway, and other stores. Oh, ... the street name Matmor Rd? It is a contraction of the names Matalone and Morici. Morici was the wholesale grocer who bought out Contadina in 1933, and sold it to Carnation Company in 1967. Jimmy Matalone was the sales manager.

The Woodland plant had a softball team in the city league. The city had a nice description of all participants, including Contadina:

A Drop in the Bucket, a lot of drops! Water is used to convey tomatoes from the truck into the plant, water is used to create steam for the evaporators which condensed tomato juice into tomato paste; from about 5% solids to 24%: thick paste, you buy in the grocery store. The waste water takes out the residue which is pumped up to a tower where the solids are separated from the water, collected in a hopper from where trucks haul it off to the fields as fertilizer. The water goes to the city water treatment facility for further treatment before it can be returned to the Sacramento River.

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Successful Aging

Daniel Levin wrote a book about happiness at old age. He was wondering why some old people lived like they were 35 years old, all vibrant, and others look ten years older than they really are, like a corpse. Why is that? 

“My brain does not work as well anymore.” Or:
“I am more forgetful.”
“I lost several friends my age.”
“I am much slower.”
Much of that is true to some extend, but not entirely. “I am more forgetful," has two sides to it. The older person thinks he or she does not remember where they put their keys and immediately think of Alzheimers. A young person will grab their phone, key in their key location button and bingo a buzzer goes off on the other side of the room. He or she goes there grabs the keys and continues what they were planning to do. Same memory loss, different perspective. 
“You changed,” may be the response. Well yes you are a bit older, but that may be all there is to it. 

Levin also contends that one of the most complicated actions for a human being is their social life, their friends, colleagues, the store clerk. It takes a lot of different neurological connections to respond to what people around us say or do. Never give up making new friends! That is more challenging than trying Sudoku, or putting together a puzzle. Sure, you get better at those latter things if you do them often enough, but not because you train your brain. 

Going to the gym, or walking around the block helps you physically, somewhat… A much bigger challenge and far more satisfying activity is climbing over rocks in nature, observing the wilderness around you, watching out for snakes, literally smelling the flowers. What once was a rain forest and now has become a sub-division, you know, but not your children. To them it has always been a sub-division. It takes a lot more neurological connections to manage your way through the rain forest. Your brain does not atrophy!

You may be slower, physically, but with age you are wiser and know short-cuts, what choices to make because you have been there, made those mistakes. You end up at the same place at the same time as that teenager, only via a different route. You are slower, but don’t have to fumble around anymore and you get there just as fast as that teenager. 

Elderly? That means you don’t have to challenge your colleague for the next position in the company anymore. You’re in a rest home now, enjoying a hobby, just reading, instead of having to mow the lawn, fix that leaking faucet, or call the plumber to install a new dishwasher. And that is all there is to it, enjoy a new friend, share how you spend your life and where you will do it. 

The Napoleon House

Hurricane Katrina devastation - August 29, 2005

Roland strolled back to Napoleon House. He liked that bar. It got its name from Nicholas Girod, mayor of New Orleans from 1812-1815, who made his home available to Napoleon should he need a place to escape. The name stuck to this day. As Roland entered some guys recognized him and waved him on. Surprised he walked over. “You were here a few nights ago,” one of the guys said. 

“Yes, I was,” Roland replied, “how did you recognize me?” 

“You are not one of the locals here. Where are you from?”  Roland joined them as another guy pulled up a chair. 

“I’m from the Netherlands, on my way to visit my brother in California. I want to see how Katrina affected New Orleans and how it is now, five years later.”

“Hmm, the Netherlands hey, you have your own flooding problems there, don’t you? I am referring to the 1953 flood.”

“Wow, good memory! You know your history well.”

“I am Joe, by the way, that is Tom, Mark, and John.” 

“Nice to know you, I am Roland.”

Roland had traveled the area, observing the dikes, dams, and water management projects in the area. He noticed that a lot of the damage could have been prevented, and a bit of his Dutch pride about how water management is handled different in Holland, kicked in. He wondered why a lot of houses were built in marginally protected areas of the delta. He wondered if technology about water management was more advanced in Holland. He became more interested in the “why’s” of flooding, because he realized that American and Dutch technologically about water management were not that different. Engineers in both countries have a good idea of the conditions and risks that exist at any time. Didn’t they manage to not have such a high density populated and expensive businesses, in flood prone areas?

“Yeah, Katrina was a disaster,” Tom chimed in, “not something we are very proud of, the way it happened and how we responded.” Tom went on to explain how hurricanes are pretty common, but how the New Orleans city fathers cut corners when it comes to controlling disasters, which are inevitable. The levees are not very strong, just consisting of sand. The population assumes those levees will hold, and water flowing over them is limited and only will happen for a few hours at the peak of the hurricane, flooding some places, but those are manageable.  Height of the levees does not matter when they fail without water rising to their tops - like what happened in 2005. Floodplain mapping in the New Orleans area historically has been based on an assumption that the area was protected by the USACE-certified (US Corps of Engineers) levee system, which was developed over several decades beginning in the 1920’s. This assumption led to floodplain regulations that allowed building construction to occur at or below sea level with no accommodations made for the possibility of river- or coastal flooding. 

Flooding in most places within the river / flood wall protected area in and around New Orleans was due to breaches in levees and canals. Pump systems that would normally have removed floodwaters were non-operational due to inundation or from a loss of primary and backup power. In Metairie, flooding was caused by high water from Lake Pontchartrain surcharging the drainage system with pumps off. Local officials decided to evacuate pump personnel on August 28, before the storm hit, according to The Times Picayune, and first-hand accounts given by the New Orleans Flood Team.   

Early in the morning on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast of the United States. When the storm made landfall, it had a Category 3 rating on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale–it brought sustained winds of 100–140 miles per hour–and stretched some 400 miles across. The storm itself did a great deal of damage, but its aftermath was catastrophic. Levee breaches led to massive flooding, and many people charged that the federal government was slow to meet the needs of the people affected by the storm. Hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were displaced from their homes, and experts estimate that Katrina caused more than $100 billion in damage. What those many people failed to realize, is that their own laid-back attitude, and that of their city fathers, about hurricanes contributed to the situation. They had seen so many hurricanes that Katrina also would pass. 

New Orleans was at particular risk. Though about half the city actually lies above sea level, its average elevation is about six feet below sea level–and it is completely surrounded by water. Over the course of the 20th century, the Army Corps of Engineers had built a system of levees and seawalls to keep the city from flooding. The levees along the Mississippi River were strong and sturdy, but the ones built to hold back Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Borgne and the waterlogged swamps and marshes to the city’s east and west were much less reliable. Even before the storm, officials worried that those levees, jerry-built atop sandy, porous, erodible soil, might not withstand a massive storm surge. Neighborhoods that sat below sea level, many of which housed the city’s poorest and most vulnerable people, were at great risk of flooding.  (from: HISTORY article, "New Orleans after 10 years.")

“So you have levees instead of dikes?” Roland asked. 

“Well, yea, so what is the difference?” Mark replied. 

“Levees are built where the water level is about the same as the adjoining land, but six feet below sea level? That would require a dike, which is much firmer, has a wider base and is constructed of various materials; not just sand,” Roland explained. 

“Are you a water engineer, or something?”

“Yes, I am a water engineer calculating dam constructions. I did that for the last section of the Delta Works in Holland after the 1953 flood, and for potassium extraction ponds along the Dead Sea in Israel.” 

Silence for a few moments, as they were impressed, then Mark continued: “So, why are the most expensive industries and heaviest population increases concentrated in the lowest part of the Netherlands?”  To that, Roland did not have an immediate answer… 

What are we learning?

In 1997 the Dutch designed a policy called: Ruimte voor de Rivier, in English: Room for the River. The old policy and way of thinking had changed. The 1953 flood re-emphasized the old idea: we should capture all the land possible from the water, and re-inforce dikes where necessary, as global warming makes its entry and the consistent rising of the sea level mandates making the dikes higher and higher. When the Noord-Oost polder was laid dry in 1943, the land adjacent to the new polder was drying out, because the polder was lower so drew out the water from under the farms on the old land. The adjacent polders laid dry in 1956 and 1960 were separated from the old land, with a slice of water of the IJssel Meer so the groundwater would not be extracted. These bodies of water are now recreation areas. Not only the water engineers, but also the politicians and population became educated about water management. Building new polders automatically, was not the answer. The last polder, the Markerwaard was never pumped dry. It still forms part of the IJssel Meer with two dikes running through it. The existing rivers were restructured. Their old river beds were shaped so that the water would twist and turn through the landscape again, instead of having straight canals with high dikes and businesses right along those dikes. Most rivers have two dikes in case the first one breaks. What were the lessons? First of all, letting the river meander slows down the speed of the water allowing water to seep back into the ground. Second, less water would end up in the ocean and become salt water again. Break through the first dike so in winter water can have a place to go. Make it a pasture in the Spring and Summer. 

The story goes that the solid concrete in the canalized rivers of Los Angeles should be removed so water can seep back into the ground, instead of all that water going out to sea. That is also the main reason why the two tunnels Governor Brown wants to build to provide Southern California with more water is a flawed concept. Even if there was enough water to redirect, it is a basic error. Slow down the speed of the water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers so more water can permeate the soil again. The Indians had it right: go to the water, don’t redirect water to us. The river never formed a border, but always ran through the middle. Redirecting water looks good in the short-term, but is paid for later. 

The TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) became the model for the Missouri Valley Authority and the Columbia River Authority. When the Kentucky Dam was built (as part of the TVA) it flooded 300,000 acres of rich farm land which had produced $21,000,000 / yr. TVA boasts that this dam produces $3,000,000 worth of hydro power or 1/7 as much. TVA shows an expense of $2,000,000 on its books for operating navigation facilities, but it seems to be purely a bookkeeping item, because the actual work was done by the Army Engineers. For the fiscal year that cost was $433,648,000 paid from army (= public treasury) funds. The actual sum in navigation facilities was $149,116,375. This investment was made possible by the Treasury Department. TVA pays no interest over that. The taxpayers pay that. Taxpayers also subsidized $6,855,997 of the fiscal year 1946 for shipping for a total of 256,465,000 ton/miles. This figures out to be 2.65 cents/ton-mile, which is about 3x as much what it would have cost by rail. TVA built enormous steam plants to subsidize the more costly hydropower. Those steam plants cost ¾ of a billion $$. That cheap electricity can help people in the immediate region but will not help the 40,000,000 people that helped pay for it.                                                           

A riparian landscape is an area with relatively high groundwater levels. It is where trees grow. It is where water ponds. In a riparian area trees contribute CO2, CH4, N and P, adding nutrients that lead to aquatic productivity, excessive growth of plants which may reduce water quality. Eventually new riparian areas develop along the new shorelines. Additional water flowing will bring down sediments to replenish the soil. So we build a dam to collect water for agricultural, industrial, and cities needs. The reservoirs entrap the sediment going downstream, which in turn would replenish the soils for farming. Species will die off, not getting the necessary ingredients. Riparian native species become extinct. Imported species, for whatever reason, take over and can withstand the new conditions better than the native ones. 

Another term to know is watershed. That word has kind of a dual meaning. In the original British term it means a ridge separating one watershed from another. Water flows differently in two adjoining watersheds. It is also explained as an area drained by a river, which includes an area larger than a riparian landscape. Drastic human interference will upset the balance. It may still be a healthy watershed, but deteriorating a riparian area, such as a dam construction. In general, it is least likely to have healthy riparian areas in poor watersheds. That can be temporarily restored somewhat by the exclusion of livestock grazing. 

In Pisek, Czech Republic is an old but still operating water mill, producing energy for the street lighting.  František Križík, a contemporary of Edison also was searching for the electric light bulb, but Edison beat him to it.  František designed the first electric generator in the town of Pisek, about 100 km south of Prague. It now is also has a museum. A six ft. dam was built across the Otava river in Pisek and water re-directed through the water wheels furnishing power for the generator. Later, a second station was built half a mile downstream. There were many of these generators installed in towns throughout South-West Czech. Rivers come down from the Šumava mountains, with the Vltava River going through Prague, called the Moldau as it goes through Germany to the North, being the biggest one. These local generators barely affected the watersheds of the rivers, yet provide energy. 

So, the Dutch and many other countries, including the USA, have come to the conclusion that re-directing water damages the environment. What now, and how do we educate the general population?

Katrina, Harvey, and Irma.

Image result for hurricane katrina

"They’re a family but they won’t go to dinner together? No. Two women sitting together and a man? No, that’s not it either. It’s an ingenious system of names, arranged alphabetically depicting a sequence of hurricanes coming through the Caribbean." Ben was trying to follow Tim’s logic.

“Ok,” Tim said, “Each year hurricanes coming from the Atlantic, and frequently move into the Caribbean, are named alphabetically. So when we are at Irma, we know that one has been preceded by 8 hurricanes that year.”

“What’s with the male and female names?” Ben asked.

“ The male ones are stronger, but I don’t know by how much.”

Katrina was the hurricane in 2005, which damaged New Orleans.

Harvey created havoc in Houston and Irma in Florida; both in 2017, following right after each other. It is not just the strength of the wind, but also the potential water damage. In the case of Katrina and Irma, it was the ocean water that was pushed into the land. Harvey came with an extreme amount of rain over Houston.

“If there are so many hurricanes in a year, you can expect a lot of damage, right?” Ben asked.

“You would think so, but many die down before reaching land, or peter out. Just because you know where all the back roads are, doesn’t mean it is safer in one spot than another. Hurricanes will change direction as they move over land. Like Irma, expected to pass right over Miami, moved a bit West-ward.”   

All of them have one thing in common: people build houses and companies where they have no business doing so. Those places are just tragedy waiting to happen. Unfortunately, hurricanes don’t come over the same areas frequently enough so people forget. Katrina was seen as just another hurricane in which the New Orleaners would have plenty of time to act. This one might just be a bit worse, and it was! Harvey brought so much water, which Houston could not handle, because everything was concrete. Building regulations were not adhered to, or inspectors looked the other way because of the boon that construction created, so water could not go anywhere. And Irma? Well, Florida could not really do much about it, being so close to sea level.