Posts Tagged: Los Angeles
An interesting book called “Orange Empire: California and the Fruits of Eden” by Douglas Cazaux Sackman tells the story of how oranges went from being an occasional treat to a mainstream part of the American diet. In fact, Los Angeles was once the center of the “Orange Empire” which developed into a massive industry in California.
Oranges were brought by the Spanish as they settled the missions, and the first sizable grove in Alta California was planted at the San Gabriel Mission, near Los Angeles, around 1804. Oranges were grown on a very limited scale until a frontiersman and entrepreneur named William Wolfskill decided to try growing oranges commercially, using seedlings from the Mission. His initial two-acre orchard was planted in 1841 in what is now downtown Los Angeles. During the Gold Rush, he was able to ship his citrus crop north to miners who were willing to pay a premium to protect themselves from scurvy.
The citrus industry in Southern California grew slowly at first, then really took off in the 1870s due to two innovations. First, a family in Riverside obtained two trees of an orange variety from Brazil. The fruit from these trees was larger, sweeter and easier to peel. This variety, which came to be known as the Washington Navel, created a surge of interest in growing oranges. In the same decade, the transcontinental railroad system connected to Los Angeles, and the very first railcar load of oranges, from the Wolfskill orchard, was shipped east in 1877. In the late 1880s, with the advent of refrigerated rail shipping, the growing citrus industry got another boost. Many new growers entered the citrus farming business, and numerous towns along the foothills of the Los Angeles basin were formed as the industry grew up in those areas.
“Centered on the Los Angeles basin, a vast citrus landscape was coming into being,” said Sackman (p.42). “In 1870, only 30,000 orange trees were growing in the state. Twenty years later, 1.1 million trees were producing fruit." By 1893, local citrus growers had organized themselves into the Southern California Fruit Growers Exchange, which later became known as Sunkist. Sunkist was instrumental in driving the demand for oranges, promoting oranges and orange juice as health aids, with national advertising campaigns beginning in 1907. Sunkist advertisements, along with colorful orange crate labels, helped to brand Los Angeles and Southern California as a new Eden, the land of sunshine and good health. This image helped to drive migration from to Southern California for many years.
Commercial citrus production in Los Angeles County began to decline after World War II, as orchards were rapidly sacrificed to the growing, sprawling suburbs of the Los Angeles basin. As recently as 1970, there were still more than 50,000 acres of citrus in the county; but today, most orange trees in Los Angeles are in backyards rather than in groves.
The citrus industry, still critical to California’s agricultural economy, has long since moved to other counties and other parts of the state. While there is no longer an “Orange Empire” here in Los Angeles, oranges are still a treat, especially if grown in our own backyards. As I prepare for the holidays, I know that today, an orange in a stocking might not be as special as it once was. But to pluck an orange off a tree, on a 75 degree day in December, still makes Los Angeles seem like Eden to a former Midwesterner like me.
Today, it's the most populous urban county in the U.S., with more than 10 million residents. But not that long ago, Los Angeles was the largest farm county in the country. A part of L.A.'s preeminence in agriculture during the first half of the 20th century was its focus on small-scale, home-based farms. In fact, Los Angeles was home to a movement which was a precursor to present-day interest in urban sustainability.
The trend was called “Small Farm Homes”, or “Little Farms,” and gained momentum in the 1920s, then continued full-force for several decades. As the population of Los Angeles County mushroomed, and real estate boomed, subdivisions were developed with micro farming in mind. Many homes were constructed on lots of one-half to three acres, and marketed as “small farm homes” to newcomers flocking to Los Angeles. Many were Midwestern farmers who no longer wanted large farms and cold weather, but didn’t quite want to give up their agricultural heritage. Others drawn to these new homes were city people, attracted by publicity campaigns touting Southern California’s abundant harvests and golden sunshine and hoping to try their hand at small-scale farming.
The automobile helped to promote the popularity of small farms on the periphery of the city, as newly mobile Angelenos could now easily transport their harvest to local markets.
The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce did much to promote this “little farm development” around Los Angeles County. According to the Chamber, it was possible to make a living on a small farm on the outskirts of the city. People might make a go of it farming, according to the Chamber, with vegetables, fruit trees, and at least 200 laying hens on two to five acres. These small family-run, home-based farms helped to feed the demand of the growing city. The number of farms of less than 3 acres in Los Angeles County increased substantially during the 1920s, with 1,334 recorded in the 1920 census, and 5,000 in the 1930 census (White, 1933).
The Chamber, in cooperation with the LA Times, ran an annual Small Farm Home contest, publishing photos and stories about the winners, with the following entry a typical example:
“The one-acre farm of C.E. Drummond, 15219 Stagg Street, in West Van Nuys, is another where beauty and utility have been successfully combined in the making of a rural home. Here, again, are flowers for joy and recreation, vegetables and fruits for the table, and chickens to help swell the family purse (Scarborough, 1930, p. K12).”
Small farm homes contributed significantly to Los Angeles County’s agricultural production. They also helped to make Los Angeles food-secure. According to a 1940 Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce brochure, “nearly half of the Los Angeles food supply originates on farms within 50 miles of the city”.
The small farm home trend continued through the Depression and well into the 1950s. In 1949, the University of California reported there were approximately 10,000 families living on small farms of one acre in size or smaller in Los Angeles County.
Today, many urban dwellers in Los Angeles and throughout the US are trying their hand at small-scale, home-based farming. There are certainly differences between yesterday’s small farm homes, and today’s urban farmers. The harvest from an urban yard today is more likely to supplement a family’s diet and income, rather than constitute a main component. Still, the motivators for self-sufficiency today and 80 years ago are similar; good food, a little relief for the family budget, and a sense of pride in “growing your own.” It’s a Los Angeles tradition that is once again gaining momentum.
Scarborough, O. (1930, Jan. 5, 1930). What acre offers. Los Angeles Times.
What the newcomer should know about agriculture in Los Angeles County and Southern California (1940). In L. A. C. C. o. Commerce (Ed.) (pp. 51). Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
White, R. P. (1933, Jan. 3). The new city of country homes. Los Angeles Times.
Small Farm Homes in El Monte, Los Angeles County
Gardening has become very popular lately, particularly in growing fruits and vegetables, and largely due to the need to lower grocery bills and eat healthy during this recession. But for beginners, gardening can sometimes seem intimidating and bewildering due to the multitude of variables involved, such as soil fertility, pest management, seasonal plants, composting, to name a few. Well, UC Cooperative Extension’s “Grow LA Victory Garden Initiative” in Los Angeles helped demystify gardening for many residents, using UC research-based information.
Master Gardener volunteers organized and led low-cost gardening courses to teach the basics of gardening to 297 students. Thirteen classes were held in March, April and May at 10 different sites throughout the county, from Tarzana to Echo Park. Each site accommodated about 30 participants who wanted to turn their new interest in gardening into successful, productive gardens in their backyards, community gardens and patios. Overall, participants walked away very pleased with the classes, and many felt that their gardening knowledge improved significantly.
“My husband and I just want to say thank you for a really wonderful four-session course. It was the perfect amount of information for beginner gardeners like us,” said a participant at the Milagro-Allegro Community Garden site in Highland Park, California.
So, what’s next? Cooperative Extension hopes to host another round of classes in Fall 2010. The hands-on experience was very successful, leaving many to inquire about future classes. For information, please contact Yvonne Savio, Common Ground program manager, at (323) 260-3407, firstname.lastname@example.org.
New gardeners learn the basics.