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Watsonville’s Commercial Agriculture
 
Watsonville, California, freight yards, 1890s
Watsonville, California, freight yards, 1890s

Watsonville was the town that served the 50,000-acre Pajaro Valley. And that valley turned out to be a great place to show the rising importance of fruit in California. As an 1892 observer, E. H. Harrison, commented, “the period of cereal growth in California is rapidly passing away, owing to the greater profits to be obtained from orchards and vineyards, and in this valley [Pajaro] from various kinds of vegetable products. Fields of beans, of potatoes, of sugar beets, and of corn, and of strawberries have to a great extent taken the place of the fields of barley and wheat. Numerous young orchards, and a few of an older growth, attest the fact that the residents of this favored section have been brought to a realization of the adaptability of their soil and climate to horticulture.”

Blue Flag apple crate label, 1910s
Blue Flag apple crate label, 1910s
Chinese workers building the Loma Prieta Lumber Co.’s railroad, California, about 1885
Chinese workers building the Loma Prieta Lumber Co.’s railroad, California, about 1885
Chinese men helped build California’s railroads before moving into agricultural work.

Watsonville was also a great place to talk about farm labor, and the role that immigrants—especially Asian immigrants—played in California’s 19th-century farm economy. (Immigration is another important transportation story we wanted to tell.) As farmers turned to fruits, nuts, and vegetables—apples, strawberries, grapes for wine, walnuts, olives, oranges, potatoes, hops, etc.—they needed access to more water and more laborers than ever before. To fill those needs, farms hired successive waves of immigrant workers to do the onerous work of planting, pruning, hoeing, and picking the produce.

Watsonville, which had a significant Chinese community in the 1880s and 1890s, was illustrative of the trends of the state as a whole toward using immigrant labor to harvest crops. As in the rest of the state, Chinese, followed by Japanese, Filipino, and Mexican immigrants, made up most of the farm labor in the valley.

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