Will Parrish, ANDERSON VALLEY ADVERTISER
“When at last the land, worn out, would refuse to yield, they would invest their money in something else; by then they would have all made fortunes.”
— Frank Norris, The Octopus, 1901
One of California agribusiness’ oldest traditions is clearing huge swaths of land to plant orchards and vineyards. On the western slopes of the Santa Clara Valley, the newly-arrived class of prospector capitalists felled the dense chaparral and oak savannah to make way for the state’s first commercial vineyard in 1850, as well as the apple, date, prune, and apricot trees. The valley was the west coast’s banner fruit-producing region up to the 1960s. In the 1870s, out-of-towners arrived on the newly-constructed Southern Pacific rail line in the hamlet of Los Angeles, where they cleared the abundant native grasslands and chaparral of the San Gabriel foothills. For many years thereafter, that future megalopolis was the US’ primary citrus growing area.
Massive water diversions have always followed soon after the land clearances. Donald Worster’s Rivers of Empire and Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert most famously chronicled California’s damming and moving of prodigious amounts of water, primarily to meet the demands of the state’s much-vaunted industrial farmers.