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Urban transplants threaten to cost Southern California desert dwellers dearly

MORONGO BASIN, Calif .– Along a dusty highway that winds through the Southern California desert, Eric Wilson makes a list of fruits and vegetables available at his nearby farm.

He’s been selling kale, lettuce, tomatoes and other locally grown produce since April at Morongo Valley Fruit Market, a small grocery store he and his wife took over earlier this year.

Despite being located in what Wilson calls a “food desert” – the nearest grocery store is 15 minutes away in the nearby Yucca Valley – Wilson was initially dismissed as another outsider seeking to gentrify the community. calm.

Eric Wilson and his wife Garden Ramirez at their farmer’s market.Michael Rubenstein for NBC News

“People thought I was from LA,” said Wilson, who grew up in Cathedral City, about 30 minutes away. “I was called a yuppie because of the prices of organic products.”

Once a hamlet for cowboys and homesteaders, the Morongo Basin is undergoing rapid change amid an influx of city dwellers seeking to escape city life during the pandemic. They come to the sun-drenched desert hoping to find fresh air, cheap homes, and Instagram-worthy settings.

But what’s considered affordable for residents of Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, or New York is out of reach for many longtime residents, who say transplants are costing locals and disrupting the fragile ecosystem.

“It’s culture shock,” said Sarah Kennington, of the Morongo Basin Conservation Association. “Everybody Loves [Joshua Tree National Park], everyone loves the desert, and if you were gentle, that was fine. But that’s not where it was decades ago.

Located more than 160 km from Los Angeles, the Morongo Basin is nestled in the great Mojave Desert. It borders Joshua Tree National Park and includes the communities of Morongo and Yucca, Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms, Pioneertown, and others.


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Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.