June 9, 2003
New UCSC library publications document agricultural
history of Santa Cruz County
By Scott Rappaport
A trio of oral history volumes documenting two vastly different aspects
of local agriculture in Santa Cruz County has just been published by
the University Librarys Regional History Project.
Master gardener Alan Chadwick, founder of UCSCs Farm
& Garden, is the subject of a new book by the librarys
Regional History Project.
Photo: Courtesy UCSC Farm & Garden.
The Early History of UC Santa Cruzs Farm and Garden takes
a detailed look at the emergence of the organic gardening and farming
movement in Santa Cruz, while two additional publications examine the
social history of commercial agriculture in Watsonville through the
eyes of two Mexican American farm laborers.
The UCSC Farm & Garden story is told through recollections of master
gardener Alan Chadwick, the visionary founder of the program, who inspired
a generation of students to discover the interrelationships among land,
climate, and plants.
The original Farm & Garden site was established in 1967 on a neglected
four-acre plot at Merrill College. Chadwick, with the assistance of
his student apprentices, soon transformed the land into a spectacular
In the process, Chadwick taught his students about French intensive
horticultural techniques, including the double-digging of garden beds,
the use of compost for soil enrichment, and the elimination of all pesticides.
This early campus project has since evolved into the Center for Agroecology
& Sustainable Food Systems, a renowned and well-respected academic
The new publication consists of interviews conducted by Maya Hagege,
a former Farm & Garden apprentice and UCSC alumna. She spoke with
several notable figures involved in the early years of the Garden including
Paul Lee, who helped Chadwick found the Garden, and went on to establish
the Chadwick Archive at Green Gulch Farm in Marin County. Phyllis Norris
also tells of her experiences as an instrumental member of the Friends
of the Farm & Garden and recalls the development of the apprenticeship
Orin Martin, a former apprentice who became manager of the student
garden in 1977, describes changes in the landscape and the wide variety
of crops and fruit trees that have been cultivated over the years. And
Dennis Tamura, a Chadwick apprentice and the coordinator of the apprentice
program from 1978 to 1985, provides a detailed account of Chadwick's
unconventional teaching methods and their role in the evolution of the
Farm & Garden.
Mike de la Cruz: The Life of a Laboring Man, 1905-1977 documents
the life of a Mexican American fieldworker who left his home in Arizona
at age 13. A self-described drifter and hobo in the 1920s and 1930s,
he would hitch, ride freight trains, and travel the country looking
for work. Arriving in Watsonville in 1921, he found employment in the
fields, harvesting lettuce and beets for a contractor and living in
Meri Knaster, a former editor at the librarys Regional History
Project, interviewed de la Cruz, whose story focuses on a particular
American lifestyle that is seldom acknowledged. She documents how he
worked the crops in Santa Cruz County during the Depression at a rate
of 12 cents per hour, leaving Watsonville between seasons to find work
wherever he could--breaking horses, planting tobacco, and even coal
mining in West Virginia.
The story of another Watsonville resident is portrayed in Grace
Palacio Arcenaux: Mexican American Farmworker and Community Organizer,
1920-1977. Born in Jalisco, Mexico, Arcenaux moved with her family
to San Juan Bautista in 1923. When both of her parents died, Arcenaux
was left to care for her nine brothers and sisters. She proceeded to
hire the family out as a unit, working together in the fields of Watsonville
until she contracted tuberculosis.
Arcenauxs narrative depicts the life of farmworkers, the harvesting
of crops, and the role of labor contractors in local agriculture. Married
at one time to a Filipino farmworker, she describes the local history
of the Mexican and Filipino communities, as well as the interrelationships
among these two ethnic groups.
Her recollections of gambling, prostitution, and Chinatown in Watsonville
are full of detail, and her story illuminates issues of gender, ethnicity,
and the harsh realities of the local agricultural economy. From illegal
immigrant farmworker to middle-class social activist, Arcenaux's life
reveals a slice of local social history, framed with eloquence and perspective.
Designed to be a primary source of local history, these three new books
have been published in an archival format, and were edited by Randall
Jarrell, director of the Regional History Project. For ordering information,
e-mail Jarrell or call (831)
Return to Front Page