Thursday, December 8, 2011

California's Rich Agricultural History

by Jannine Corti Petska
Copyright © 2011 Jannine Corti Petska

The business of agriculture in California began in the 18th century and was well documented in the diaries written by the Spanish missionaries. They worked the land, growing wheat, fruit and nuts. By 1797, aqueducts and other irrigation systems were in place.

Almonds were second only to grapes as the most important aspects of California agriculture. In 1873, two navel trees were brought over from Brazil. As a result, the pacific state became world-renowned for its flourishing citrus crops. The climate played a big part in developing the agricultural industry. California’s two seasons—winter (rain) and summer (drought)—lured farmers away from their homes in the Midwest and east to begin anew.

With progress came conflict. Political, social, economic and even labor were valid points of argument among the people. Water laws came into effect, giving rights to “owners whose land borders on water courses.” But it wasn’t until the Wright Act in 1887 that public utility came to the fore, establishing irrigation districts.

The Gold Rush and the completion of the transcontinental railroad aided the industry, creating more jobs. However, farming wasn’t an easy life. Among the many ethnic groups working hard labor were the Chinese. They suffered through sixteen hour days, heat, low wages, and lived in unsanitary conditions in camps. They were subjected to frightful discrimination, as were other ethnicities.

The U.S. was relatively late in developing a working agricultural industry, far behind the rest of the world. But it caught up quickly. In Claude Hutchison’s History of the University of California and the Land Grant Colleges (1946) he wrote: “crowded into a short spam of less than a hundred years, the commercial agriculture of California has passed through all of the stages exemplified by several centuries of the world’s agricultural history.”

This subject is barely touched on here. So much more has been written about the beginning and growth of California’s rich agricultural history. Thankfully, our ancestors recorded their experiences in diaries and journals. I originally thought agriculture would be a boring theme for an article. Instead, I found it fascinating, and it has opened new avenues for this writer’s future stories.

Love's Sweet Wager
by Jannine Corti Petska
Buy links: Amazon, The Wild Rose Press, B&N

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jannine,

    You are writing about something of which I know, especially in North San Diego County. My husband was the first Agricultural engineer to work with the Israelis in bringing drip irrigation to grapes in the county. We were the second growers in San Diego County to plant kiwis in Fallbrook. I wrote on this very subject, avocados and oranges in particular, awhile back on Petticoats and Pistols. My latest book with The Wild Rose Press explores the beginnings of avocado and orange grove farming in the area. Our ranch in Fallbrook was on a portion of the old Rancho Monserate.


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