The College Farm at Davis

My son once had a friend who attended the University of California at Davis. I would tease her about attending the College Farm at Davisville. "The what?" she would ask. Like her, most people today wouldn't recognize that name, nor would they understand the important role that the Davis campus of the University of California, which grew out of the College Farm, has played in the agricultural history of San Joaquin County, especially in the mechanization of tomato harvesting.

San Joaquin County farmers pose for an Agricultural Extension agent, ca. 1920.

In 1868, the California state law that created the University of California. At the same time, it also called for formation of a College of Agriculture. In fact, the first building on the Berkeley campus, South Hall, was built to house the agricultural program. One of its early leaders was a cousin of Charles Weber, the founder of Stockton.

In 1897, the University established a permanent program that put farm advisors in the field, working directly with farmers. That outreach function was furthered in 1906 with the establishment of a College Farm in Davisville (in Yolo County, west of Sacramento). Over time, the name "Davisville" was shortened to "Davis."

George W. Pierce, Jr., the alumnus who persuaded the University of California to choose Davisville for the College Farm, said:

"The College of Agriculture is more necessary to the state than the school of medicine, law or theology. If we lived a more natural life in the fresh air, we could get along without medicine. If we had no lawyers, we might get along with justice. If we had no theology, we could get along with religion.But we could not live at all without an adequate supply of food, and for that we are dependent upon an intelligent system of agriculture." (David Vaught, After the Gold Rush, 2007)

The influence of the College Farm grew over time. A federal law enacted in 1914 mandated a new outreach effort called the Cooperative Extension, which combined university extension and state agents, and that program began in California in 1915.

Then, in 1921, growers' cooperatives forced a kind of agricultural education master plan through the California State Legislature that broadened the research and training mission and made Davis the northern branch of the enlarged University of California College of Agriculture.

Plant breeding became an important role of the University's College of Agriculture. The Davis campus became a center of scientific hybridization and Davis agronomists initiated the California Approved Seed Plan in 1934, in cooperation with the state Department of Agriculture and the Farm Bureau.The farm mechanics program at Davis also started in the 1920s and gained prominence in the 1930s.

After World War II, California poured more money than any other state into its College of Agriculture and Cooperative Extension Service. In 1959, the Davis campus received full independent university status and several departments moved from Berkeley to Davis.

Over the years, the University of California, Davis, has developed close working relationships with growers and food processors in San Joaquin County, as well as other counties throughout the state. This can be seen in a number of cooperative research programs and field trials, as well as the Extension services. The coming together of botanists and agricultural engineers at U.C. Davis with local growers and canners was critical to developments in a number of agricultural commodities, including the successful mechanization of harvesting tomatoes for canning.

The Museum is developing an exhibition on the history of canning tomatoes in San Joaquin County. If you have ideas, stories, photos, or artifacts that might be included, please comment or e-mail me at

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