For over a thousand years, the human beings who inhabited the valley of the Los Angeles River (today called the San Fernando Valley), survived as hunters and gatherers. The creeks in our region that ran, and still run, year-round, provided small fish, abundant water fowl, deer, rodents, as well as an abundance of water plants and all important acorns for soups and cooking flour.
Agriculture appears to have arrived with the conquest of the Spanish and colonists from Mexico. Vast cattle ranches, kitchen gardens and modest vineyards marked their era.
With the arrival of European-Americans came the introduction of wide scale agriculture. Dependent on natural rainfall, and eventually wind-pumped wells, wheat, sheep ranches and orchards were developed. For example, at one time olive orchards in the northeast Valley were among the largest in the world.
The arrival of Mr. Mulholland’s aqueduct water brought an explosion of irrigation supported orchards and chicken farms. Only a handful of these farms still exist. Today agriculture has given way to family gardens and commercial horticulture.
Your Museum endeavors to capture, by photographs and records, the Valley’s agricultural history. We believe you’ll find the San Fernando Valley’s farming and gardening history genuinely interesting.
For about a half century between San Fernando's 1874 founding and the 1920s, the community was considered an "agricultural gem" set in the San Fernando Valley, thanks to a double blessing. An ample and reliable water supply was coupled with a coastal valley climate. The community's elevation of approximately 1,100 feet and its receiving about 12 inches of rain a year made it ideal for growing crops.
Though cattle ranching was common in the area when missionaries arrived in the late 1700s, a century later, the landscape was dotted with wheat plantings and fruit trees, whose growth was also aided by the irrigation systems in place from the Mission's heyday. By the 1920s, with further assistance from the waters of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, fruit and especially citrus cultivation was San Fernando's biggest industry. The price of land for orange and lemon groves went as high as $5,000 an acre, as much as eight times more than the cost of other land. The city had at least four packing houses with annual shipments of nearly 500 rail cars of oranges and lemons. Olives also flourished in the Mediterranean-like climate, and the 2,000-acre Sylmar olive grove then was the world's largest producing 50,000 gallons of olive oil and 200,000 gallons of ripe olives annually.
Other crops grown in and around San Fernando included alfalfa, apricots, asparagus, barley hay, beans, beets, cabbage, citrus, corn, lettuce, melons, peaches, potatoes, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, and walnuts. The area also had excellent dairy farms including during the 1920s, the world's largest Guernsey herd.
San Fernando's agricultural output led to other industries such as canning companies, a fruit grower’s association and fruit preservers. Like most other communities in Southern California, San Fernando's agricultural land gave way to development following World War II.
For more information about The Museum of the San Fernando Valley, please contact us at (818) 347-9665 PST, email info@TheMuseumSFV.org or Contact page.