The Silicon Valley used to be called “The Land of Hearts Delights” well before for the computer industry took over. Long before HP, Apple, Intel and the vast array of emerging startups, the valley was known for an abundance of cherries, apricots, prunes, walnuts, figs and wine grapes. At the height of the agricultural boom in the 1920s and 1930s, more than 100,000 acres of orchards blanketed the valley. But then came development. And lots of people.
The valley looked a lot like the Tuscan hills of Italy…and the weather and soil not that much different. Life was simple. Dad worked. Mother stayed home and cooked, cleaned and made the kids clothes. Small areas like Campbell, Willow Glen, Sunnyvale and Cupertino were homes to farms, farm workers and professionals providing infrastructure to the community.
After World War II, Santa Clara County hit a building boom and as a result the prune and cherry orchards gradually began to disappear. The fertile land that fed the nation quickly made way for the baby boomers’ first homes. The rise of the aeronautics industry and the circuit board and computer chip enterprises that followed were the undoing of the valley orchards. Then in the 70s, the last of the valley’s fruit canneries became second nature. One of my favorites is the Libbies Fruit can standing tall in Sunnyvale. It’s actually one of my favorite landmarks right up there with the historic giant donuts and orange juice huts about California.
Today, there are roughly 20,000 acres of agriculture left, most of it clustered in southern Santa Clara County around Morgan Hill, Gilroy and the Coyote Valley. The Coyote Valley, a fertile, 7,000 acre area between San Jose and Morgan Hill, is slated for office and residential development by the city of San Jose. There is also a small but growing acreage of vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
While the obituary of the valley’s fruit growers was written long ago, they didn’t totally die out. They just went underground.
Fast forward to 2009 and you can hardly find an orchard. Look hard in a small patch in Sunnyvale, Cupertino and Almaden Valley you and will find a random fruit tree. If you’re lucky enough you live in an old orchard property like I do and have heirloom walnut, apricot and apple trees out your back door.
Until the mid 70s the annual Santa Clara County Fair in August would draw farmers, ranchers and city folk to congregate to celebrate fruits of the valley’s harvest. The Santa Clara County Fair used to be one of the best around but it was finally killed by the lack of popularity and the riff raff that hung in the carnival area. Yes it’s around the corner…but more of a festival than a fair. About five years ago I attended but there were more narcotics and parole officers walking the campus then families…not a good sign. Gone was the live stock section, hall of quilts, jams, home grown veggies, farm equipment and other blast from the past. Gone are the roots of your own harvest. Just miles from the farm belt we have lost sight of our own roots. People flocked here during the great depression to work ranches and farms. One of the last known ranches is Olson’s Cherries fruit stand. All that remains today is the water tower and an abundance of fruit that doesn’t yield from the valley but premium fruit just the same.
In thirst for a bit of the old “valley” I went to the Alameda County Fair. A real old fashion county fair the way Santa Clara County used to host. I took the kids. They have never been to a fair and I told them why back in the olden days how important it was for the farmers, ranchers and city folk to come together to show off their prize chickens, rabbits, sheep, cattle, jams, jellies, veggies. As well as their homemade, beautifully crafted handmade quilts, blankets, sweaters, homemade pies, cookies and anything else you could imagine grandma prepared from scratch!
So if you have the thirst for life in the Silicon Valley before we took ourselves to seriously demanding a cup of Starbucks, BMWs and fine dining at Santana Row…check out one of the below cool and humble attractions the valley has to offer.
Places to go: