Our View

Agriculture still significant part of our community

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Snippets from ‘PLACER COUNTY, CALIFORNIA. Its Resources and Advantages.’

The book states, “ Agricultural Portion. Formerly, mining was the principal source of wealth of Placer County, but a new era has dawned upon the county. Thousands of acres are now devoted to agriculture, and land heretofore thought only fit for mining and grazing is now subjected to the plow with profit. … Look at the map, and you will see that the purely agricultural section lies west of a line drawn from where the Oregon division of the railroad passes out of Placer southeast to the southeast corner of the county. It contains the towns of Roseville, Lincoln, and Sheridan. The soil is alluvial, deep, and productive. Grain is the principal product, though attention is paid to the breeding of high class horses and stock of all kinds. The farms are held in larger tracts than further up the mountain, and altogether the district presents the usual aspect of a grain-raising country. The road runs quite level until it reaches Rocklin, and here it begins to climb the mountain, or a spur, until it reaches Colfax. On this spur, descending on each side to Bear River and the American River, is the Fruit Belt.  On this line are found the towns of Rocklin, Pino or Loomis, Penryn, Newcastle, Auburn, Clipper Gap, Applegate, and Colfax, situate about three to four miles apart, and each the centre of a thriving and enterprising community. Soil. A line drawn from the American River westerly, passing near Auburn, to near the centre of the county, represents the northern limit of the granitic soil, which section includes the towns on the railroad below Auburn to Roseville. The western part of the county is alluvial, and the country north and west of Auburn is slate, until at the summit granite again appears. Each of these soils has its admirers. The slate soils are imposed upon tilted slates, in the interstices of which the roots find ample moisture without artificial irrigation, while they have an abundant supply of iron and lime. The granitic soils are less in depth than the slates, but abound in potash, which gives them a guarantee of productive yields for many years to come. Newcastle and Penryn show what such soil can accomplish with irrigation, while the orchards and vineyards about Loomis, grown without irrigation, speak their own praise. When land is not irrigated it must be thoroughly cultivated at least three times in the summer. Water is abundant everywhere, and can be used whenever the choice lies that way. Soils range from two to thirty feet in depth. For those who are curious about analysis of soils we append analyses of soils from Loomis or Pino, granitic soil, and from Auburn and Colfax, slate soil, premising that the soils from Pino and Colfax do not represent the best types of the soil, as they were taken, for safety's sake, to represent the minimum value, the latter being more an analysis of the subsoil. The tests were made by Professor Hilgard, Professor of Agriculture at the State University.  ... Loomis. Of the soil of Loomis, analysed in 1883, he writes: "Of the samples sent, it seems most desirable to examine the hill soil. It is a reddish-gray sandy loam, and should till easily at all times. The analysis shows the soil to contain good percentages of mineral plant food, except phosphoric acid, in which the soils of the Sierra are generally deficient. Compared with the red soil of Auburn, this soil contains only one-fifth as much phosphoric acid, but nearly twice the amount of potash, a circumstance that points to its adaptation to the production of grapes. The fig and olive, and probably cherry, would do well on the hill soil, while in the valley, where both phosphates and humus are more abundant, other fruits would thrive. …  Fruit Culture v. California's fame, today, rests upon her wonderful capacity for fruit and wine culture, and for flavor and keeping quality of fruit Placer County stands second to none, indeed it may be said, that, taking into question early maturity of fruit and facility of transportation, she is superior to any other county in the State. The question is asked by the immigrant, What can I raise in the foothills? We reply: Everything that grows out of the tropical zone. If he will stop over at Colfax he will find the best grapes ever grown in the State, and thence on to the southern limit of the county, wherever he tarries, he can taste, in their season, every known variety of fruit. And these are not grown for curiosity, but are orchard products grown for business. In the older settled part of the county, say at Newcastle, Penryn and Auburn, are olive, orange, almond and walnut trees, flourishing to a surprising degree. The tea plant is also growing at Auburn. Newcastle and Penryn send to market the first strawberries and blackberries in the State. We are not content to rest on past laurels. For miles, on each side of the railroad, settlers are busy in clearing land and planting fruit, so that wherever the newcomer settles he will be aided by the experience of others and stimulated by example to action. … There is a raisin vineyard at Rocklin of 200 acres, from which last year were sold eighty tons of raisins. At Pino there are probably 200 acres set out in vines, besides the orange vineyard, which contains 150 acres of vines. At Penryn and Newcastle are found the larger orchards, some of them ranging as high as 130 acres of bearing fruit. At Auburn tea and olives are grown, and many acres of olives have been planted the past year. Clipper Gap and intermediate stations have felt the impulse also. Colfax has of new vineyards at least 500 acres. These fruits are not dependent upon home market, but are shipped as far north as Montana, east to Boston and south to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

 It would be a delicate matter to state the best fruit to plant, though the tendency is largely to Bartlett pears, peaches, table and wine grapes. No one can go amiss who plants these varieties. The profits of an orchard or vineyard varies from $50 to $250 per acre— some of the statements of growers seem incredulous to those unacquainted with the subject. A ten-acre pear orchard of 1,000 trees, at ten years old, will bear at least 200,000 pounds of fruit, which, at 2^ cents per pound, the price paid last season, would give a return of $5,000. Deducting expenses, the profit would be $4,000. Ordinary vineyards yield four to five tons per acre, though there are numbers of instances where the yield is doubled. Grapes sell to the wineries at from $22 to $30 per ton, while table grapes sell for $40 to $60, when sold in large lots. Fancy grapes are higher. We know of one vineyard near Colfax of ten acres, which yields an annual net profit to the owner of $2,500. … In estimating the venture of fruit growing, it must be remembered that the foothill fruits are most sought after and command the highest price, both for home and the Eastern market. At the State Fair in 1883, thirty-five varieties of grapes grown at Colfax, were exhibited, and took the first prize, and at the State Fair in 1885, Placer County was awarded the third prize, only falling below other counties because our exhibit was confined to fruit while other counties made a general exhibit' of all industries. Placer County took the second premium at the late Citrus Fair, showing oranges and lemons grown from Auburn to Roseville. … This shows that we have faith in the safety and profit of citrus culture. At the Mechanics Fair of San Francisco, Pino or Loomis was awarded a silver medal for exhibition of non-irrigated fruit. …

- Published in 1886 by the Placer County Immigration Society

Although many of us who didn’t grow up in Placer County might not realize it, agriculture has strong roots here.

That many of us don’t remember the agricultural history would not make Placer County Immigration Society members happy.

The society formed in October 1884 to extol the country’s attributes, similar to modern-day Chamber of Commerce ambassadors promoting their respective cities.  Society members didn’t financially benefit when East Coast citizens moved here; the members just wanted to attract more residents to Placer County.

The society published a 38-page book, “PLACER COUNTY, CALIFORNIA. Its Resources and Advantages.” The cover boasts, “Placer's fruit is the best, its mines the richest, its transportation facilities the most convenient, its scenery the grandest, and its climate the healthiest and most delightful of any portion of California. A Region Little Advertised but Full of Merit. SEE PLACER BEFORE SETTLING.”

This wasn’t recently published. It was published in 1886 when the Placer County Immigration Society tried to attract East Coast citizens to board the train for this area.

The book describes in painstaking detail facts about all the crops and amounts grown, climate, different elevations, irrigation and established businesses from the area known today as Applegate to Roseville.

Josh Huntsinger, Placer County Agricultural Commissioner/Sealer of Weights and Measures,
treasures the historical book. It shows that Placer County residents have always been proud of their crops.

Huntsinger has compelling reasons why we today should be proud of the county’s agricultural heritage.

“It’s our roots, there’s a cultural component. It’s who we are. It’s the rural lifestyle. People don’t want to live in a place where you just see concrete and landscaped lawns,” Huntsinger said. “They like seeing livestock grazing and pastoral vistas. It benefits our economy. It’s a win-win-win for Placer County.”

But in the 1960s and 1970s, the number of farmers and crops significantly decreased because of pear blight in the ’60s and the Central Valley offered competition in the form of cheaper crop production costs and earlier stone-fruit crop ripening.

Farming stabilized from the 1980s to 1990s and, in the early 2000s, the Placer County Board of Supervisors recognized the need for agriculture and assisted with the formation of PlacerGROWN, according to Huntsinger. PlacerGROWN promotes the county’s farmers, ranchers and vintners.

Since that time, we’re seeing a resurgence in local agriculture. The current PlacerGROWN annual report said 10 new farms and two new farm-to-tap breweries were established this year. The county is home to 21 wineries, 10 certified Farmers’ Markets, 70-plus farm stands and three community-supported agriculture subscription services.

Today, up to 500 Placer County residents commercially farm mandarins, other fruit, vegetables, rice, walnuts, grapes, chicken, sheep, honey bees and cut flowers, among other crops.

Both PlacerGROWN and the county’s agricultural commissioner are pleased to report that there is an upsurge today of young farmers. And these farmers are selling locally to residents and to restaurants reaching to Sacramento.

“We’re finally on the map. PlacerGROWN marketing has kicked into gear,” Huntsinger said.

Total gross value totals of Placer County’s agricultural crops and products at about $58 million is a significant amount of income.

There are more than 1,200 farms and ranches in Placer County today, according to the Placer County Farm Bureau.

While we don’t see Placer County’s farms located in most of our neighborhoods, we benefit greatly from their services. Besides the economic benefits to our tax and employment bases, we benefit via farmers’ markets, pumpkin patches and special annual events such as the eggplant festival and mandarin festival.

Our lives are richer, thanks to our local farmers. Let’s support them at Farmers’ Markets, stands and community events. Shopping locally makes great sense.