Thinking outside the crate : preserving and utilizing historic fruit orchards in Northern California
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MA in Historic Preservation
Citation of Original Publication
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Fruit production has a long history in California, beginning with Spanish missionaries who introduced a dazzling array of exotic species into the California landscape in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many settlers, horticulturists and businessminded pioneers who followed quickly realized the potential for growing superb fruit in California and over the next two hundred years helped develop the nascent fruit industry into a world-famous empire. Fruit orchards represent an important and tangible link to the early agricultural history of California. The preservation of historic orchards can teach us a great deal about why people kept orchards, how they utilized the fruit and the role that orchard culture played in the social lives of generations of northern Californians. From small private orchards intended for personal use to vast commercial plantings destined for distant markets, the collective diversity of orchards in northern California is a patrimony that should be preserved for future generations to appreciate. Just as buildings preserve a sense of historic style and regional taste in architecture, historic orchards preserve a sense of regional taste in foods and the qualities of the land upon which they were grown. This concept is known in France as gout du terroir1, or the “taste of place” and connects certain food crops with their specific place of origin, a concept understood and frequently exploited by California’s fruit growers. This thesis research finds that by preserving and utilizing the fruit from historic orchards we achieve a number of significant goals. We maintain the traditional agricultural practices of regional communities by participating in and supporting local economies. Visually we preserve a sense of history and place through the presence of orchards in the landscape and encourage participation in agritourism through seasonal Upick ventures. Most importantly, by preserving historic fruit orchards we preserve the enjoyment of rare, heirloom and historically significant fruit varieties at a time when modern agriculture has reduced this segment of the food supply to a peaked fraction of its historic richness and diversity. My findings show that it is possible to both preserve historic fruit orchards as important features of the landscape while also making productive use of the fruit that is grown within. There is no excuse for allowing bushels of fruit to fall to the ground each year when many organizations are willing to harvest or prepare the fruit for consumption, often for free. “Thinking outside the crate” means creating partnerships between historic orchards and community organizations so that quality historic fruit does not go to waste.