Growing for the Wider Market
Railroads changed agriculture. As railways linked farms to a wider commercial world, farmers began to grow new crops for markets near and far. Vast wheat fields supplied flour for people around the world. Trains carried cattle and hogs to central stockyards and shipped meat by refrigerated railcars to retail markets across the country. City dwellers could buy fruits and vegetables year-round. Farms became commercialized, often specializing in single crops and tied to the ups and downs of a national market.
With its rich farmland, Watsonville became a center of produce farming. When the railway opened up new markets, local farmers began to experiment with sugar beets, apples, strawberries, and other cash crops. These new crops were highly labor-intensive, needing a vast army of workers to plant, cultivate, harvest, and pack them. Watsonville growers looked for low-cost and temporary field hands. They hired Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Mexican workers to perform the backbreaking work.