It’s 1937 on a dairy farm in Northern, Illinois. My family lived in a 5-bedroom farm house built by my grandfather in 1898. It was a beautiful house – large porch in the front, large porch in the back. We had electricity but no running water for cooking, bathing, cleaning or washing clothes.
All the potable water for drinking and cooking had to be carried by bucket from the well to the house, about 100 yards one way. No running water also meant we had no inside bath tub or shower. Water for sponge baths and house cleaning was drawn from a cistern. For those who don’t know what a cistern is, it’s basically a water holding receptacle. Ours would fill from the rain water off the roof of our home. On the side of the kitchen sink we had a hand pump to drawn the water.
It wasn’t until I was about 10 years old that we finally got running water in our house; and a large copper bathtub in our basement. We still didn’t have hot running water but at least we had a tub! We would heat the water and bath one by one – the children were first and then my mother, then my dad. It was quite nice of my mother to let us kids bathe first! That’s just the way it was back then.
Remember in 1937 we had just gotten through the depression so we were grateful for everything we had. I remember reading stories of people starving. They were people like me but I don’t remember ever missing a meal. My mom and dad worked very hard to put food on our table – and enough for the whole family. Together we raised chickens and hogs; and of course since we lived on a dairy farm we had plenty of fresh milk everyday. My mother loved gardening and grew fresh vegetables and flowers every summer. She would can anything we didn’t eat fresh so we could have nourishing food all through the winter.
And boy! Do I remember the custard pies and peach cobblers! I can still smell them coming out of the oven.
Written by John Kegebein, Agricultural History Project, CEO
First we’d like to acknowledge the many people who made this project possible:
Funding for this project was provided by a grant from Community Foundation Santa Cruz County
Many thanks and gratitude to the following individuals who provided their assistance in this project:
Agricultural History Project Steering Committee:
Many thanks also to Kelsey Waugaman, Linda Lorenzen, Jennifer Keiderling, Jeannie Kegebein and Kaleena Kane, all of whom provided valuable assistance in helping to complete this project.
Thanks to Donna Bradford for her project leadership,and to Jeannie and John Kegebein and Lynne Grossi for their insight and assistance; to Lindsey Roberts and Stephanie Fontana, who helped with graphics, email and social media outreach, and to Lisa Bennett, who provided invaluable assistance with methodologies and data analysis.
377 surveys were completed online and in printed form from which the data were later entered into the system.
Overall, the results of both the focus group study and the online community survey indicated that there is a strong desire for a living history farm as a vehicle to tell the regional stories of farming, agriculture, food sciences, geography and people. It can provide education and skills-training opportunities for children and youth, volunteer opportunities for youth and adults, and add to the economic vitality of the region.
However, at the same time, just over half to two-thirds of survey takers indicated they had either no or just some level of interest in supporting the farm through donations, membership or as a volunteer. Each of these sources of revenue are important for success, so these results should be cautionary. That said, interest and excitement could very well change and grow as plans move forward and the farm begins to become more of a reality.
At the November meeting, the Agricultural History Project board of directors voted to put together an advisory committee to explore the details involved with executing a living history farm.
Agricultural History Project presents “2015 Ag Talks,” reviving a popular series from past years. Please join us at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 30 at the Codiga Center and Museum, Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, for the second of three 2015 Ag Talks on aspects of Central Coast agricultural history.
Would you like to learn more about the Focus Agriculture program? Jess Brown, Executive Director of Agri-Culture, and of the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau will host a panel discussion on “25 Years of Focus Agriculture.” He and the four following Focus-Ag graduates will share their experiences with the national award-winning local Focus-Ag program:
Zach Friend, 2nd District County Supervisor for Santa Cruz County
Ceil Cirillo, City of Santa Cruz Redevelopment Director, retired
Ted Burke, owner of Shadowbrook Restaurant
Mark Silverstein, Executive Director, Elkhorn Slough Foundation
They will be joined by current Focus-Ag participant June Padilla Ponce, consultant for Salud Para La Gente, and by a familiar individual who presents each year to the program: Lou Calcagno, County Supervisor, Monterey County, retired. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn more about this fascinating program!
Next, plan to join us on Wednesday, October 21 at 7 p.m. for John Grafton’s talk on “Local Farming and Rancho Practices in the Californio Era.” John, a bilingual docent at San Juan Bautista State Historic Park and at Mission San Juan Bautista, grew up on cattle ranches and worked in large animal husbandry for the Peace Corps in South America. He is a blacksmith and consults on early California archaeological projects. His talk will include some of the early implements in the Ag History collection, and those with their own early California implements are welcome to bring them. We encourage Spanish-speaking attendees, as this presentation can be bilingual.
Our kickoff presentation on August 19 by ever-popular Cabrillo College Professor Sandy Lydon was well attended.
The cost to attend each lecture is $3 for members and $5 for nonmembers. Refreshments will be served. If you have topics or speakers to suggest for 2016 Ag Talks, let us know. For more information, call Agricultural History Project at (831) 724-5898.
Let’s Talk About Insects!
By Lindsey Roberts, Marketing & Communications Director
Lakeside Organic Gardens
The theme at this months Agricultural History Project’s “2nd Saturday on the Farm” is games and grilling. We’re donating some of our favorite grill-able vegetables so the volunteers at AHP can serve them to their guests. They asked if we’d be interested in talking about how these crops are grown. We excitedly said “YES!” and decided to discuss the importance of beneficial insects in our growing practices which make us different from most. Anyways, who doesn’t love talking about insects?
So here goes…
Lakeside Organic Gardens is committed to growing 100% organic produce because we believe it’s the right thing to do. Organic produce is better for our health and our environment. We don’t use synthetic agricultural chemicals but instead we rely on natural fertilizers, compost, beneficial insects, beneficial habitat plants, and strategic crop rotations. Today we’re going to discuss beneficial insects.
We use Mother Nature as often as possible because she will provide us with a lot of control we don’t normally get without using synthetic chemicals. “It’s an expensive way to farm and very time consuming, but well worth it in the end,” said Alan Miyumura, the Disease & Pest Control Manager at Lakeside Organic Gardens.” He goes on to explain “Lakeside releases parasites and lady bugs to aid in managing aphid and other harmful insect populations. Our beneficial insects are encouraged to stay nearby our crops because we plant a beneficial habitat to suits their basic needs.”
Lakeside Organic Gardens will occasionally harvest lady bugs from the Santa Cruz Mountains or purchase beneficial insects and introduce them to a field. Our goal is to create an environment that attracts the adult beneficial insects to the fields. Dick Peixoto, the grower owner says, “the trick is to make our fields look more attractive than the neighbors so they stick around.” The most common beneficial insect in Santa Cruz County is the hover fly, also known as the syrphid fly. It hovers over simple flowers and feeds off the nectar. They look for a nectar abundant place to lay their eggs and once the eggs hatch, the larva feed off the aphid. It’s a win, win situation for an organic farmer.
Our pest control team scans the fields for harmful pests like aphids and worms that do harm to the plants. When harmful pest population gets out of hand, our pest control team decides which beneficial insects to release based on the current pest pressures. If we cannot get the population under control, it’s possible we may plow under an entire field. This is a very tough decision to make and is often a very costly one.
With the help of beneficial insects like hover flies, lady bugs and parasites, we’re able to produce high quality organic vegetables year-round right here in Santa Cruz County on the beautiful Central Coast of California.
“Our belief is that Mother Nature had this figured out long before we arrived, all we have to do is help her as much as we can.” — Dick Peixoto, grower owner
Every May, Ag History holds its best attended event, Day on the Farm, complete with demonstrations and hands-on activities from farm and ranch life in the past.
From the Agricultural History Project Archives, here are some local recollections of life on the farm.
John N. Lucich (1917 – 2004): During apple harvest my job after school was to pick up
windfalls at the rate of 1¢ per Bx which my father paid me. Sometimes before it
got too dark I might pick up 20 Bxs. Also as a teenager I made apple boxes. The rate
of pay was 50¢ per 100 Bxs. Each box required 28 nails. You had to stock your bench
with shook, fill your stripper with nails and bundle your Bxs 3 to a bundle. The experienced nailer could make 500 Bxs in 8 hours. I have pruned apple trees, thinned, sprayed, picked apples @ 4¢ per Bx. I at around age 10 would assist in the packing shed labeling Bxs for
shipment to England….As kids there was no time to play….1
Frank R. Oliver (deceased): Green Valley Growing-Up
In 1935 when I was 10 my folks bought their ranch on Green Valley Road. The bulk of
the top eight acres was an older pear orchard with boysenberries planted in between…
Pop proceeded to remove it all to raise row crops like tomatoes, sugar beets, strawberries
and the like….
With 1935 ingenuity, he or someone provided an old 1924 or 25 black sedan, anchored
it near the yellow house, took off one rear tire, strung the rear wheel with a 3 to
4 inch belt, which was attached to a 24 inch circular saw. The car was anchored in
position, put into gear, like second or third to propel the saw blade. The table was
butted up to the new saw, which when a log was placed could be pushed into the whirling
blade. I vividly recall a crew of three to four men spending about a month sawing wood
for the fireplace to use at our home. All this wood was hauled to the backyard, and
for the next three months every day after school I would neatly stack it in one tier sections
6 foot long 4 foot high and separated by small and large pieces. It also occupied my
Saturdays and boy did I look forward to Sundays….I was never so glad to see that old car
power plant leave the ranch.
The clearing [of] the land for row crops brought new chores. Pop wanted to raise tomatoes
for a cannery. So with the remainder of the backyard, I built what we called tomato
plant beds. They were about 6 feet wide and about 30 feet long. The plants for the big
field were raised from seed to individual plants for transplanting. The beds had to be
weeded, watered, covered from the sun and frost and subsequently harvested for
replanting in the ex-pear orchard.
Needless to say the work didn’t hurt me, and no doubt kept me healthy.2
Foster Hutchings (1912 – 1984): Foster’s Remembrances:
When he was about 5 yrs. old, he had to lead the work horses out of the barn to water,
and they would rare up and he would have to hand onto the rope (or they would get
away and he would be in trouble), and they would fling him around in the air when they
He went barefooted and in cold mornings, he would warm his feet in the spots where
the cows had bedded down.3
Lawrence Marshall (1890 – 1988):
When Lawrence Marshall took charge of running the family ranch on Mount Madonna
Road [in 1910], he was up before dawn to till the fields with a horse and plow. And
when the day was done, he returned to a home where cooking was done on a wood stove
and lighting was by kerosene lamp.
If Marshall wanted to travel the seven miles into Watsonville, it took two hours with a
team of horses….
‘There was no way of getting to high school. It was too far, and we didn’t have any bicycles,’ said Lawrence.
Lawrence’s eight sisters all managed to attend high school in Watsonville by boarding
with families in town during the week. The girls earned their keep by doing housework
for the families they stayed with….4
John Larkin (1918 – 2007):
…I was born and raised on a farm…[It] was a subsistence type farm where we had
about fourteen or fifteen good cows and we had a few brood sows and we did all
of our work with horses and we grew tomatoes and we grew young pigs. My father,
along with many of his trades, was a real good butcher also….[He] was a pretty good
blacksmith and he could repair shoes like you wouldn’t believe. And he used to be a
…I always like to say that we always had a little bit of money to spend because we
always grew our own stuff and we always had something to sell….There were ten kids….
We all miked cows and we all fed pigs and we all baled hay and stacked hay and did
everything else that a farm kid had to do. We worked in the orchard….It was Newtown
Pippins and White Winter Permains and Winter Banana apples….5
Burton Anderson (living):
…The ranch was 80 acres on Hunter Lane [off River Road outside Salinas] belonging to
my Swiss grandfather….One of my jobs, when I was old enough, was to clean the barn,
feed and water the horses, and finally to harness them for the day’s work….Like most
farm boys in the 1930s I joined the 4-H Club and raised lambs, pigs, squash, and
pumpkins. I also entered some of my Bartlett pears and pumpkins in the Monterey
County Fair and received 1st prize for several years. The highlight of our 4-H year
was the annual camp, sponsored by U.C. Agricultural Extension, at the dormitories at
Asilomar. It was great fun and we got to meet boys and girls from other parts of Monterey County.6
Floyd Silliman (1908 – 1979):
…[At] the old schoolhouse I recall how the teacher would let us out to view the
happenings of interest. A herd of cattle going by, a threshing outfit pulled by a big
iron-wheeled steam engine and followed by all the necessary wagons pulled by
horses, the six and eight-horse teams hauling sugar beets and, of course, the Gypsies
with all their dogs, kids and trading animals….
The cook house, bunk house and blacksmith shop were always good places for us kids.
The cooks, and we had all kinds from good ones to drunks, generally made hot apple
pie daily and, of course, hot biscuits….
The blacksmith shop was a good place for kids to visit. We would take turns pumping
the bellows that kept the forge going. There were many different smithies over the years…Generally they would help us kids with our projects. Just prior to planting
my father would bring in about fifty head of horses to be shod. Good and bad were
included in the bunch, but they all got homemade shoes nailed on—even though some
of them were lying on their backs all tied up….
Mom would invite town kids out at times….We would envy the Lindsey bunch because
they never wore shoes during summer, and they could run across clods and stubble. We
would generally go to the river where we had a good swimming hole. If the day was
foggy, we swam in a stagnant pool as it was warmer….7
Do these stories remind you of your own experiences, or of life as described to you by older family members, perhaps your parents or grandparents? We would like to hear the stories of your life in agriculture, and this blog will occasionally be updated with more memories.
Also, Ag History is proposing to create a permanent Living History Farm to provide ongoing experiences of past agricultural life. If you like this idea or you’d like to weigh in on this proposal, there’s still time to join a focus group at http://aghistoryproject.org/living-history-farm/. Or send your thoughts on this subject to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Excerpts from handwritten letter, John N. Lucich to Pat Johns of Agricultural History Project, 24 March 2004.
2 Excerpts from “Green Valley Growing-Up,” in Frank’s Stories, photocopy of undated typescript by Frank R. Oliver in Agricultural History Project collection.
3 Excerpts from “Foster’s Remembrances,” undated typescript by Ellen Hutchings, wife of Foster Hutchings. Foster Hutchings was the son of Moses Hutchings, first commercial lettuce grower in the Pajaro Valley.
4 Lane Wallace. “Marshalls celebrate a century…” Register Pajaronian, 18 June 1979, 11.
5 John Larkin, interview by Elizabeth Schilling at Freedom, California, 16 November 1988. Larkin Valley is stated to be named for a great uncle of John Larkin.
6 Burton Anderson, Chapter 17, “A Boy’s Life on a Salinas Valley Ranch in the 1930s,” in A Native Son’s History of the Central Coast (Salinas: Monterey County Historical Society, 2010), 77 – 81.
7 Floyd Silliman, The Life of Floyd Silliman and His Genealogy 1908 – 1978 (unknown: Floyd Silliman, 1978), 13, 16.
Written by: Sheila Prader, Ag History Archives