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February 23, 1998

Regional History Project publishes oral histories of two leaders of regional agriculture

By Barbara McKenna

Two new oral histories focusing on the area's agricultural history have been published by the University Library's Regional History Project.

The volumes are Jack L. DeBenedetti, Jr.: Brussels Sprouts and Artichoke Growing on the North Coast, and Charles Dick: Agricultural Regulation in Santa Cruz, 1930-1967.

The DeBenedetti publication, featuring the commentary of the late Jack DeBenedetti, documents the history of two of the most popular Central Coast specialty crops. The late DeBenedetti's father, known as the "Artichoke King," developed the local artichoke industry and was the first to introduce this crop to the East Coast market. The DeBenedettis, large shipper/growers, farmed a thousand coastal acres from the 1880s until the 1970s.

DeBenedetti provides an overview of coastal agriculture during a half century, describing the varieties of crops grown, characteristics of coastal soils, pest control, capital costs, field labor, the Bracero Program, and the history of Brussels sprout and artichoke cultivation. His narration also includes chapters on the decline of family farming, the future of coastal agricultural land, and the increasing pressure on farmers to sell their land to developers.

The second publication is the memoir of the late county agricultural commissioner, Charles Dick. Dick traces the history of California's unique system of agricultural regulation and inspection, which dates from the 1880s. Dick's overview of county agriculture includes the increasing importance of pesticide regulation, mechanization, changes in local crops and acreage, farm labor and unionization, and the demise of the family farm.

Xeroxed, indexed copies of these volumes can be purchased at cost by research collections and libraries. The volumes are available to researchers and readers in Special Collections at UCSC's McHenry Library and at Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley. For more information, contact the Regional History Project at (408) 459-2847 or send e-mail to ihreti@cats.ucsc.edu. The Regional History Web site includes a complete catalog of publications.

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