The Fallbrook/Bonsall area has been an agricultural-based community since the earliest settlers arrived in the 1800s from Pennsylvania. At first most people lived around Live Oak Park. Was a majority of our agriculture always avocados and citrus? "Not even," according to Darwin East of East Bros. who has lived in Fallbrook since he was in high school.
Before the formation of the irrigation district which drew water from the rivers and creeks, people had to dryfarm (grains and sometimes beans), grow olives, or farm bees for honey. "The commodity had to be able to withstand drought conditions," said East. Fallbrook's agricultural community has diversified and changed with the times whenever necessary. Grain and cattle were the first commodity and then olives (yes, that's where the name Olive Hill came from).
Bee farming has always been a part of our community. Honey has been used not only as a treat, but also as a remedy for sore throats, a salve for scrapes and as an antibiotic.
Up until the 1850s bees were "smoked out" of their hives. Before this time finding a bee tree required time and work. In early spring was a good time because the bees had few flowers to choose from and they were hungry after the long winter. Bees rarely roam more than two miles from home, so the bee hunter knew there wouldn't be a long trek to the hive When bees are full, they would make a "Beeline" _ as straight as a line for home. Once the tree was found the hunter marked it, then left it alone until the bees had filled it with honey.
In the fall, they would return to the tree, taking materials and moist leaves for building a fire. The moist smoke would calm the bees and make them less likely to sting. The tree would be cut down and the honey taken back home in bowls and pots. The bounty for the bee hunter was plenty of sweetener for the year and beeswax for candles!
Unfortunately for the bees, once their winter food was depleted, many of them died.
In the late 1950s a beehive was invented with sliding frames, which made it possible for beekeepers to take some of the honey and leave the rest for the bees to feed on through the winter.
Bee farming has always been and continues to be an integral part of our farming community.
"Among the first bee farmers were the Whites, Reches, Girds and Hindorffs," according to Don Rivers of the Fallbrook Historical Society. "They would extract honey, put it in 5-gallon tin cans or quart canning jars and sell it locally. After the railroad came through and connected Fallbrook with the Southern Pacific Santa Fe, they were able to ship it back East."
According to Rivers there were also local dairies. "Jack Story's family owned a dairy which is presently Thee Last Straw. Running Brook Dairy was along the Santa Margarita River off Sandia Creek Rd. Then there was the Pratt Ranch on South Alturas. The dairies produced milk for local residents and schools."
According to East, Arthur H. Anthony (Donald Anthony's father) was among the first to plant avocados (probably Fuertes) in the 20s or early 30s. he was also a pioneer with mulching and fertilizing. He would take horse manure from the Del Mar Race Track and would put up to a foot of straw under the trees. The dams that run down through Los Jilgueros Preserve were built by Mr. Anthony. His groves included the Los Jilgueros Preserve, the hills east of where Union Bank and the homes south of the bank are today. Also on the west side of Mission.
According to East, avocados are profitable. They were even more profitable for Mel Graham in 1929. He used to have a grove on Reche Rd. and another one in La Habra, Calif. In 1929 he got $1.29 per pound! They bought 2.5 acres in Fallbrook. Mrs. Graham was a pharmacist in the 40s. She worked at the drug store in Fallbrook. East remembers her as, "A really neat lady." He says in those days avocados would get .40 or .50 a pound. Now you get .80 or 1.00 a pound because of advertising." He continues, "Calavo has done a good job of advertising. Also the avocado growers and packing houses have done a good job."
He estimates that from 1982 to 1985 there were 88,000 acres of avocados planted and that today there are 55,000 to 65,000, mostly due to price, root rot, and developments coming in and splitting up land.
Bayliss McDonald had an avocado grove and nursery for many years starting in the 1930s. McDonald Road was his driveway. Other influential growers in the area were the Maddocks. They came to town, started growing avocados and have continued for four generations.
Vic Pankey also comes from a long history of farming. His father was a farmer from Orange County. They came to Fallbrook, planted groves and also raised Pucharon horses (large draft horses used for pulling heavy loads like Clydesdales).
Even though the avocado industry faces competition from other countries' exports, Fallbrook and Bonsall's agricultural crop is still producing a good revenue for local farmers.
The Fallbrook/Bonsall/DeLuz/ Rainbow area is well known for its nurseries. We enjoy flowers, palm, cactus, avocado, lemon and plant nurseries.
"Water costs are a big factor. My dad used to pay 40 or 50 cents per acre/foot of water. Now people pay $600-650 acre/foot," said East. This is significant because an avocado grove requires 3 1/2 acre-feet per acre per year. There are 325,851 gallons in an acre/foot. An acre/foot is one acre of water, one foot deep.
Each avocado tree needs 35 to 45 gallons per day. That seems excessive until you learn that a Giant Redwood requires 1100 per day. Citrus uses the same amount of water but you feed it differently as the roots are 18-36 inches deep compared to the avocado's which are surface to 12 inches deep.
East says there are a lot more pests today. "We have a lot more tools to work with for the different diseases. Years ago the only pests we had when we started was Phytophthora Sinnamoni, (root rot). Today there are all kinds of pests that have come into our isolated area. We're pulling in pests from other areas.
Seed Weevil is coming from Mexico. Scirothrips have been a problem, Perscia Mite, Luper worms (inch worms), and Greenhouse thrip. The more we get exposed to the world the more things come in. We didn't have these problems in the 50s. A lot of these come from Mexico.
"In the 70s we had a real thrust of farming in this area. In the 60s and 70s and up until 1982 investment credit taxes were given to farmers. East Bros. Grove Service at that time developed 300-600 acres a year. But it all slowed down when Congress signed a bill dissolving the credit. Tax-wise farming wasn't as good an investment anymore. From then on we developed 70-81 acres a year," Darwin said.
He continued, "Now you can depreciate your grove out over a 10 year period, but farmers used to be able to write off everything they put into the grove. Now its more restrictive. It's not as good an opportunity to put in your groves as it used to be."
As for endangered species, they also make it more difficult to clear and plant today because of the regulation. Before, if you had a few oak trees or a gnat catcher or a kangaroo rat you didn't worry about it. Now there is a lot of permits and paperwork.
People coming to our area use groves as a way of life. The 3-acre parcels make nice landscaping, provide a crop and a bumper privacy. This seems to attract a lot of famous and prominent people to the Fallbrook/Bonsall area.
Is farming still a good way to make a living? East says its better to farm as a supplement. High property values and high water bills make it not as profitable as it used to be.
He concludes, "My dad made a living at it to raise my brother and I. People like the Pankey's make a living but they're very large. You have to average it. We always tell people to average 7 to 10 years and if they've made a profit - they've done OK."
Because of the nature of obtaining material from various sources, Fallbrook Historical Society cannot guarantee the accuracy of all the information this document contains.
Fallbrook Historical Society
Fallbrook, CA Area Information: History
Elizabeth Yamaguchi's Writings On Fallbrook History
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Last update: 29 January 1999.