Early San Joaquin County Horticulturalists

In the early 1900s, agriculture in San Joaquin County shifted from dry-farmed wheat and barley to the intensive, irrigated crops we know today. A number of factors contributed to that transition, among them changes in the way farming was approached.

San Joaquin County farm families learn walnut cultivation from U.C. Agricultural Cooperative Extension advisors (1921).

It was an era of experimentation and education. Journals such as the Pacific Rural Press and California Farmer encouraged farmers to try new crops, new varieties, and new techniques. The first radio station in the world was born in 1908 to broadcast agricultural information to Northern California farmers. The San Joaquin County Farm Bureau came into existence in 1914, the second in the state, to provide a link between farmers and the University of California via the Cooperative Extension.

In addition, the Smith-Hughes Vocational Education Act of 1917 offered funding for high school agriculture classes. When the national Future Farmers of America (FFA) was formed in 1928, three San Joaquin County schools joined that first year: Lodi (prestigious California Chapter 1), Ripon (Chapter 15), and Manteca (Chapter 28).

The early practitioners of this new era of specialized, market-oriented, and labor-intensive farming called themselves horticulturalists, orchardists, vineyardists, and growers. They stressed hard work, patience, prudence, and cooperation. "They believed they were cultivating not only specialty crops, but California itself" (Vaught, Cultivating California, 1999).

"As communities grow in wealth, population and intelligence, grain growing gives way to the fruit tree and vine," wrote B. N. Rowley in an 1889 article published in California Fruit Grower. Ten years later, Edward Wickson editorialized in the Pacific Rural Press: "Horticulture is more than trade—it is more than manufacturing. As man develops and improves the plant and shapes its growth to better serve honorable ends," he wrote, " the mental acts react upon the mind itself; it sees new beauties, it discerns new uses, it invents new methods and processes, it perceives new and more refined relations and differences."

The views of these early horticulturalists in California reflected an agricultural fundamentalism that went back to Thomas Jefferson but focused on the importance of their local communities.

"California growers…took great pride in producing their crops," writes author David Vaught in Cultivating California (1999), "believed in the virtues of rural life even while becoming fully integrated into the market economy, exhibited a strong cooperative bent, and above all regarded themselves not as a separate interest group but as a special class of people responsible for the very well-being of the larger society."

If you have found similar statements from this era, please share them by commenting or sending them to me at davidstuart@sanjoaquinhistory.org.

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