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Historian peers into Pajaro Valley past: Region provides unique perspective while reflecting many state trends

  • December 20, 2011

By Donna Jones
Santa Cruz Sentinel Staff Writer

WATSONVILLE - When Linda Ivey began studying the Pajaro Valley 10 years ago, she thought she'd be writing about greedy landowners, oppressed farmworkers and racism.

But that's not the story the CSU East Bay historian uncovered.

"It's a much more nuanced history," said Ivey, whose research is the focus of a feature in the fall edition of the college's magazine.

Ivey, a New Jersey native, came to California in 1998 with a background in environmental and immigration history and inspired by the likes of John Steinbeck and Carey McWiliams, whose 1939 "Factories in the Field" critiqued corporate agriculture as exploitative of workers and the land.

She was interested in how waves of immigrants and changing attitudes shape the environment and was drawn to California's multicultural heritage.

In the archives of the Pajaro Valley Historical Association, Ivey discovered a "treasure trove" of stories that spoke to the uniqueness of the area as well as its reflection of larger state trends.

Landholdings, for example, were on a much smaller scale than in the Central Valley, and irrigation water, at least for most of the last century, wasn't a defining issue.

At the same time, Ivey said, "It's a microcosm for what's happening in the rest of the state: the diversity of crops, the diversity of people, the intense agricultural system."

In the valley's Croatian, Asian and Mexican immigrants, Ivey sees not the earlier immigration concepts of uprooting from a native land or transplanting to a new one, but "a graft" of cultures and skills.

"They bring their skills to new places, often with familiar climates, but they participate in something new and distinctly American," Ivey said. "They adapt to new markets, and invite in new technology."

There were ethnic tensions, particularly during the Depression when "everybody was scrambling for jobs," she said. But more often tensions were tempered by a desire for the stability that would allow agriculture to flourish.

In the 1920s and '30s, for instance, lectures on new farming techniques were presented in multiple languages.

"It was an acknowledgment and an effort to be inclusive," she said.

Ivey said early Pajaro Valley farmers were as concerned about sustaining the land, their economy and their community as today's organic growers. She said it's tricky using a contemporary word like sustainable to describe ideas from the past. But in the context of the times, the introduction of modern pesticides in 1907 to fight the codling moth, for example, was viewed as a way to sustain the apple industry and community, she said.

"It was, 'We have this new technology, and it seems great, a lifesaver,'" Ivey said.

She wonders how future generations will view our concepts of organic and sustainable production.

Distribution of organic produce at Walmart gets healthy food on more tables, she said, but may foster a less local system favored by sustainability advocates.

"We don't have all the answers," Ivey said. "It's something we're working toward."


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