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

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

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

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


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.


I wrote this book to teach myself something about agriculture and to revisit a few mysterious relics from my childhood. Like any other California kid, I saw the most familiar buildings and open spaces fold up into dirt lots, soon to be replaced by tedious fabrications of frame and stucco— never as interesting or as beautiful as what was there before. There came a time, while I was still young, when I realized that this furious trend called “development” had been under way for many years and that, not long before, the place where I lived had looked very different than it did to me. Alfalfa and orange trees once claimed the soil under the sidewalk in the neighborhood where I grew up, but not a patch of cultivated land remained in the 1970s. Always thrown for a loss by places neglected and things weathered, I learned to keep an eye out for fragments from the past. On travels to the suburban edge I caught sight of fields and orchards and paid close attention. Though I gave no particular meaning to that inland space between Los Angeles and San Francisco or to the irrigated desert near Riverside and San Bernardino, what I saw of these places put me into a creative confusion about my place in the world: trees in patterns, smudge pots on the roadside, pickers in hats with sacks and trays, packinghouses with corrugated steel roofs. I’m still searching for something in these places—still thrown for a loss by fragments in the landscape—though I ask different questions about them now.

Perhaps I am impressed with such things because I am not from rural folks. No one in my family owns a farm (although I have a wayward cousin in Vermont who raises organic vegetables); in fact, I am reasonably sure . . .

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