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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 Library’s Regional History Project.

Photo of Alan Chadwick

Master gardener Alan Chadwick, founder of UCSC’s Farm & Garden, is the subject of a new book by the library’s Regional History Project.
Photo: Courtesy UCSC Farm & Garden.

The Early History of UC Santa Cruz’s 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 terraced garden.

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 program.

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 program.

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 labor camps.

Meri Knaster, a former editor at the library’s 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.

Arcenaux’s 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) 459-2847.


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