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The Fruits of Natural Advantage: Making the Industrial Countryside in California

Steven Stoll
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: 1
Pages: 302
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  • Book Info
    The Fruits of Natural Advantage
    Book Description:

    The once arid valleys and isolated coastal plains of California are today the center of fruit production in the United States. Steven Stoll explains how a class of capitalist farmers made California the nation's leading producer of fruit and created the first industrial countryside in America. This brilliant portrayal of California from 1880 to 1930 traces the origins, evolution, and implications of the fruit industry while providing a window through which to view the entire history of California. Stoll shows how California growers assembled chemicals, corporations, and political influence to bring the most perishable products from the most distant state to the great urban markets of North America. But what began as a compromise between a beneficent environment and intensive cultivation ultimately became threatening to the soil and exploitative of the people who worked it. Invoking history, economics, sociology, agriculture, and environmental studies, Stoll traces the often tragic repercussions of fruit farming and shows how central this story is to the development of the industrial countryside in the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92020-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. PROLOGUE: In the Rain’s Shadow
    (pp. 1-6)

    The land was advantageous. With a gentle climate, fertile soil, and cold-water rivers, land in California offered Americans the kind of fresh prospects they had come to expect after more than two centuries of agricultural settlement. Just outside Los Angeles and across San Francisco Bay lay abundant hills for grazing and sweeping plains for crops. The snow on the far mountains melted in the spring and flowed over bottomlands in one of the largest interior valleys on earth, a place of arid summers and winter rains, a place where winds from the Great Basin dried the grass on 20 million...

  7. 1 The Conservation of the Countryside
    (pp. 7-31)

    The official closing of the farmers’ frontier in 1890 and the realization that arable land of high quality no longer lay in new territories initiated a period of transformation in the American countryside. Last-ditch land frenzies like the ones that tore up Oklahoma between 1893 and 1905 did little to allay the dread of scarcity.¹ The following period of high commodity prices, sometimes called the “Golden Age” of agriculture, was also a time when century-old methods of cultivation began to impede an industrial economy that could no longer expand without remaking the countryside in its image.² Advocates of America’s industrial...

  8. 2 Orchard Capitalists
    (pp. 32-62)

    A landscape of orchards and vineyards took shape in the arid valleys. Though irrigated agriculture fulfilled its promise to create hundreds of densely populated rural townships, smallholdings did not signify that people of modest intentions had replaced the grain kings in the California countryside. Hundreds of square miles of tidy irrigated colonies presented a great contrast to sprawling fields of wheat, but the people who came to take up small tracts differed little from the Chapmans and Friedlanders who preceded them. Horticulture became a business through the efforts of a capitalistic and cosmopolitan group of farmers. The men and women...

  9. 3 Organize and Advertise
    (pp. 63-93)

    The land was advantageous, but its location was not. Though blessed with the best soil and climate for their particular crops, fruit growers had to contend with one overwhelming and unavoidable fact: their geographical isolation from the largest cities in North America. The Sierra Nevada, the Great Basin, the Rockies, the Great Plains, the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys, and the Appalachian Mountains stood between California and the great centers of consumption. Fruit growers remained stubborn adherents of David Ricardo in a world haunted by Johann Von Thünen. No other region could produce raisins and oranges as fine as those...

  10. Photographic plates
    (pp. None)
  11. 4 A Chemical Shield
    (pp. 94-123)

    The pursuit of fruited wealth in the markets of the world brought ecological disorder to the land. Trees and vines covering thousands of square miles of once diversified grasslands, foothills, and riverine swamps amounted to a radical simplification of these natural landscapes. A few cultivated plants replaced hundreds of animal, plant, and insect species over hundreds of square miles—a transformation not without consequences. This simplified ecology invited a population explosion among alien (nonnative) insects. At the same time growers planted colony tracts and attempted to reach markets abroad, their orchards fell under attack by insects so perplexing that they...

  12. 5 White Men and Cheap Labor
    (pp. 124-154)

    Intensive, specialized horticulture required a labor system all its own. The work of the orchard, including pruning, irrigating, picking, and packing, could not be mechanized. One of the ironies of this most capital intensive of all agricultural industries is that it did not benefit from the reapers, tractors, and combines that so changed farm production beginning in the nineteenth century. Fruit growing remained a labor-hungry business in the midst of an automotive revolution. Insecticides ensured the size of crops and cooperatives protected their quality, but only a large and mobile labor force could move fruit from tree to packinghouse. This...

  13. 6 Natural Advantages in the National Interest
    (pp. 155-180)

    What natural advantages made possible, the institutions of industrial agriculture made manifest. California’s rural industry turned on a principle: the careful matching of climate and crops provided the basis for an agriculture that regarded the world as its market. In Oliver Baker’s conception, rails and wires gathered up the regions of North America to form one countryside. The products of various climates and soils met in the same markets. As a result of that competition, farmers examined and then exploited their local natural advantages, sorting out the arable lands of the continent according to their most profitable specialties. Just as...

  14. EPILOGUE: Restless Orchard
    (pp. 181-186)

    By the 1930S the California fruit business represented industrial farming at its apex: The almost complete separation between farm production and consumption and the dedication of soils in a vast region to consumers far away. Though nature presented a set of ecological options making possible a great diversity, the growers’ particular reading of nature led them to plant a limited number of plants in monocultural stands. Determined to enjoin California with the emerging national economy, they invested in labor practices, chemical inputs, and marketing organizations intended to sustain specialized crops. People and nature served the growers in a singular capacity,...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 187-238)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 239-262)
  17. Index
    (pp. 263-273)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 274-276)