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'Farming in Torrance and the South Bay': A look back at L.A.'s farm belt

TorranceYou would hardly know it today, when South Bay towns like Torrance and Gardena seem composed of little but suburbs and strip malls, but it wasn't so long ago that this broad, flat plain included some of the choicest agricultural land in California.

Beginning in the 1880s (even before if you count the cattle-running ranchos) and continuing until as recently as the 1950s, there were thriving farms producing strawberries, beans, sugar beets and dairy cattle, among many others.

Torrance author Judith Gerber beautifully captures this history in her new book "Farming in Torrance and the South Bay," part of the wildly popular "Images of America" series run by Arcadia Publishing.

Mining collections of historical photographs at local libraries and museums as well as from the personal stashes of many family members, Gerber has come up with a trove that vividly illustrates the wealth of the area's farms.

Like the rest of the Arcadia books, this one is heavy on photographs -– most of them snapshots, really -– and a little light on text. Most of the information is conveyed in captions. But it makes for a fascinating couple of hours nonetheless.

There's Benjamin Stone Weston, who in 1847 paid the Sepulveda family $525 for 3,000 acres of the old Rancho San Pedro and farmed most of the land between San Pedro and Redondo Beach. And there's Harry Phillips, who worked for the Bixby family before farming on his own -- a tradition his family continued for several generations.

And did you know that the "pony-pack," those light plastic packages that look like ice cube trays containing several different plants, were invented by South Bay grower Bill Mertz?

Full credit is paid to the area's Japanese farmers as well -– the Ishibashis, Takahashis, Ihoris and others who were such a vital part of the area's farm economy. (Ever wonder why there is such a thriving Japanese community along the south end of Western Avenue? It's not just the car companies.)

Judith Gerber’s "Farming in Torrance and the South Bay" is available on Amazon.com and from Arcadia Publishing as well as from many local bookstores.

-- Russ Parsons

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I grew up in 1950 on Maple Ave across from what is now the court house. I used to ride my bike to the resovoir on Maple Ave. The King family lived there. I also went to the dairy to visit the workers and watch the cows be milked. One day the field across from my house on Maple Ave was full of army men playing war.
I walked to Madronna School. I also rode my bike to the market called Jim Dandy and the 5 and 10 cent store. We would watch parades along Torrance Blvd. My mom said there were Japanese farmers in the fields when we moved into our new $12,000 track house at 820 Maple Ave.I have many more memories of downtown, since my parents owned Baker's Furniture, I walked around town, in those days it was safe. I window shopped in Newberry's often. Where the public pool on Torrance Blvd is was a huge sandy hole in the ground that we called the "jump off". Every year a carnival would set up right across from my house where the courthouse is. I recall a VandyCamp bakery and the library and a toy store downtown. It was a great time to be growing up and a great place!

If you lived on 237th st across fro Crenshaw. That was the Baligad farm ! There were houses there but no migrant worker camps. They belonged to the Perez, Villareal and Garcia families.Those families would work for my father from time to time. I went to school with a coupla Perez boy's. I'd get burrito's custom made from their mother, what great memories ! I'd actually would ORDER burrito's from Mike for the next day's lunch in high school !

Dear Judi : I would love to be interviewed by you and be able to reflect on some of my own experiences with the local Filipino and Mexican American Farmers ! Please feel free to contact me at tbaligad@yahoo.com. I might be of service to you in some way ? Looking forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely..........Tom Baligad

Dear Tom Baligad:

I would have loved to include info. on Mexican American and Filipino farmers but I wasn't able to find anybody to interview and include given the very short time frame I had for my original book. Now that my book is out I am hearing from all kinds of people, and would love to at least write some articles about them and I am working on another history book and I would love to include them.

You can reach me via my blog, www.lafarmgirl.blogspot.com


I lived on 182nd St. where my Father Joaquin Baligad Farmed with a family of seven not including my dear Mother Jessie. This was in the early 50's we grew string beans, celery,cauliflower and brocolli.......it didn't take long for the city of Torrance to iminent domain it for the new high school better known as North High School which they built on top of our house.
We then moved to another farm next to the Walshes and planted pretty much the same vegetables, The farm was located on 190th St. between Crenshaw Blvd and Prairie Ave. We were again taken over by housing !
We moved once more for the final time to a farm on Crenshaw Blvd between Sepulveda and Lomita Blvd ! That's when my Father started growing fist sized strawberries that were next to heaven whhen eaten !

I feel there isn't enough credit given to the Filipino and Mexican Farmers.........they also grew some nice vegetables and fruit too........I know I was one of them !

I walked to kindergarten in Torrance in 1955 along a road cars traveled on that was still dirt with no sidewalks. Less than a mile from the last oil derrick along the road, tall eucalyptus grew in a long line bordering a large pasture that seemed to stretch miles away to the horizon, with grazing cows and bulls, which we kids would taunt by crawling beneath the barbed wire fence several feet into the pastureland. On occasion one of us boys would grow gloriously brave and venture deeper into the grazing area, to the screams of the girls watching, and hear about it later from our angry moms, for what passed then for getting into trouble.

Yes, Torrance!

As a kid in the early 50's, I lived on 237th St. across from Crenshaw, where there was a huge bean field, complete with migrant worker camps. Large numbers of different types of frogs lived in our yard, and the Helms truck used to come by!

I grew up in the days when the corner of Del Amo Blvd and Hawthorne was a dairy, when most of behind Del Amo Mall where the new condos and houses are now were strawberry fields, and a friend of my dad's had to shovel frogs from Madrona Marsh out of her office at what is now Target. I miss seeing the horses for the mounted police that used to be stabled by the train overpass at Del Amo Blvd and Madrona Ave (The bridge at Prairie where it becomes Madrona).
I don't miss all the train tracks that used to criss cross town.And I don't miss the oil drilling machines that used be everywhere. But I do miss the really good strawberries that are now so hard to find due to continual development.

I grew up in Gardena. I remember the heavy, heavy clay soil and the afternoon low clouds that would drift in from the ocean on summer afternoons, keeping the air just a little cooler, a little more comfortable. Our Fuchsias were 6 or 7 feet tall and the flowers hung in sheets of color. Wonderful place to grow things. Perhaps in a few hundred years it will be so again.


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