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Lessons Menu - Lesson 9 - Lesson 10 - Lesson 11 - Lesson 12 - Lesson 13- Lesson 14 - Lesson 15 - Lesson 16

Lesson Plan 11 - Agriculture
download lesson11.pdf

This lesson introduces students to the general history of agriculture in California, including the move from raising livestock for hides to the growth of wheat farming and the introduction of specialty crops. In Lesson 11, students use the Sacramento History Online database at

1. Explain how the geographic features of California affected the growth of agriculture.
2. Identify several projects, ethnic groups, and events that helped make the Sacramento Delta suitable for farming.
3. Analyze several documents to see how farming was promoted in the early 20th century.
4. Use the SHO database to find specific historical information.

4.1.3 - 4.1.5 Physical and human geographic features that define places and regions in California
4.2.3 - 4.2.8 Social, political, cultural and economic life and interactions among people of California
4.3.3 - 4.3.4 Economic, social and political life from the Bear Flag Republic through the Gold Rush
4.4.2 - 4.4.6 California's rise as an agricultural and industrial power

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Click to download this PDF document, which then can be viewed and printed with Adobe Reader.


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DOCUMENTS TO DISCUSS (view online or print screen)
The documents shown below provide an overview of the history of agriculture in California. CLICK on an image to view or print the document.

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1. Sutter's Hock Farm
[ca. 1849]
This farm was one of the first agricultural projects in California. This photo of a painting shows the first steamboat that passed up the Feather River receiving a cannon salute from General Sutter at the Hock Farm.

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2. Levi Painter's fruit
and vegetable ranch

Shows the steamboat Julia on the Sacramento River in foreground; Painters Hall left; dock at right; farmhouse, barn, outbuildings, orchards, fields in the distance. The location is identified as one mile south of Courtland.

download PDF file
3. Map of California Delta District
[ca. 1920]
Map of the Sacramento and San Joaquin River delta area northwest of Stockton; shows rail lines, rivers, sloughs, and Delta islands.

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4. Celery gathering and growing on Grand Island
Workers on a celery farm in the Delta.

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5. Bella Vista Ranch near Rocklin
[ca. 1890]
View from the north of Bella Vista Ranch originally owned by the Thomas Marshbrowne family; shows house and outbuildings surrounded by orchards.

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6. Yolo County orchards
[ca. 1910]
Aerial view of orchards spreading across the valley floor. At lower right, people posed near fruit drying trays on the ground; at upper right foreground, foothills in the distance.

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7. Loading watermelons
[ca. 1915]
View of two men loading watermelons from a truck onto a railroad box car, at Orland.

download PDF file
8. California for the Settler
Southern Pacific Railroad booklet describes agricultural opportunities available in California. Includes the types of crops grown in each region of the state, with details about production and yields.

download PDF file
9. Natomas News
This newsletter includes photos of reclamation phases and equipment, including the Hercules, described as the largest clam shell dredge in the world.

view large image
10. Cultivating field, Bear River area
Land being cultivated with a horse-drawn disking machine. The field location is in the upper Bear River area Natomas Company Reclamation Dist. 1001.
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1. Print any of the images shown above that you will use in your discussion, as well as Student Activity Sheet 11 and Key. (Label the images by their number to identify them in the instructions).

2. Read Background Article 11. You may wish to read it to your students or print it and have them read it by themselves. Discuss any questions that they may have.

3. Show and discuss Document 1, Sutter's Hock Farm. Tell students that the image shows one of the first farm projects in California and ask them what time period it depicts. (1840s) What clues are in the image? (steamboat, cannons, clothing) What do they already know about John Sutter? Why would he need a farm? (to provide food for the settlers at Sutter's Fort) Ask why they think the men are shooting cannons? (The image shows a steamboat salute, but students may have other ideas before you tell them the occasion.) Why do they think that the Indians who lived in what is Northern California did not rely on farming for their food? What did they eat instead, and how did they obtain it?

4. Document 2, Levi Painter's fruit and vegetable ranch. This print shows a later view of a farm along the Sacramento River. What details can students identify in the image? The location is identified as one mile south of Courtland. How do they think a modern image of the same area might look today? What would have changed?

5. Document 3, Map of California Delta District and Document 4, Celery gathering and growing on Grand Island. What do students notice about the geography of the area depicted on the map? Do they recognize any of the names on the map? What do they think would be some of the challenges of living, traveling, and farming in this area?

6. Document 5, the Bella Vista Ranch near Rocklin and Document 6, Yolo County orchards. Have students determine how long ago the photos were taken. (1890 and 1910) Locate Rocklin and Yolo County on a map. How do they think the land in these areas would look today? For example, much of the area around Rocklin is now being filled with residential and commercial buildings. Discuss how population growth and development has affected farming in California. Is farming an important business in your area? How do people decide how land should be used in your community?

7. Document 7, Loading watermelons. Discuss the railroad’s impact on California agriculture.

8. Document 8, California for the Settlers. This 1910 booklet from the Southern Pacific Railroad celebrates the wonders of Northern California as a farming region. At this time, railroads and others who were interested in selling land for development and promoting tourism often published such brochures. Some of these publications made exaggerated claims about the climate and crops that could be successfully grown in California. Read the brochure to your students and have them decide how accurately it describes growing conditions at that time. Do students agree that there is no climactic difference between Northern and Southern California? Have them locate annual weather data to support their conclusions. Which crops shown are still widely grown commercially in Northern California?

9. Document 9, Natomas News and Document 10, Cultivating field, Bear River area. These images show some of the work involved in reclamation of the Delta lands for farming. Locate the Bear River area on a map.

10. Give students Activity Sheet 11: Agriculture Overview (printed from the PDF file). After they have finished the activity, discuss their answers as a group.

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1. Search the database for a photo showing some type of farming in the area where you live or a place you have visited. How long ago was the photo taken? Has the land changed since then? If so, how?

2. Learn about the agricultural history of your own community. Find other websites to help you learn more. Where else can you find information?

3. Find out if any reclamation or irrigation projects were implemented in your own area. When were they started? What impact did they have on your community?

4. Look for more information on early farmers such as Levi Painter. You can find one article (originally published in 1890) on the internet at

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2003 Teacher resource guide: A guide to educational materials about agriculture.
  Sacramento, CA: California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, 2003.

Chang, S. The bitter sweet soil: The Chinese in California agriculture, 1860-1910
  Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1986.

Kelley, R. L. Gold vs. grain: The hydraulic mining controversy
  in California's Sacramento Valley.
Glendale, CA: A.H. Clark Co., 1959.

Kelley, R. L. Battling the inland sea: American political culture, public policy,
  and the Sacramento Valley, 1850-1986.
Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989.

Jelinek, L.J. Harvest empire: A history of California agriculture.
  San Francisco, CA: Boyd and Fraser Publishing Company, 1979.

McClurg, S. Water and the shaping of California
  Water Education Foundation and Heyday Books.

Miller, C. and Hyslop, R. California: The geography of diversity.
  Pomona, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1983.

Schlebecker, J.T. Whereby we thrive: a history of American farming, 1607-1972
  Ames, IA: The Iowa State University Press, 1975.

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California Department of Food and Agriculture Kids
links to information on the CDFA site and other agricultural sites

California Farm Bureau Federation
farm facts and activities, history timeline, water quiz

California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom
lesson plans and activities, links, resource guides

Early California History: An Overview
Library of Congress, American Memory Collection pages on California

National Agriculture Statistics Service, Agriculture NASS Kids, Agriculture and Math Fun
games, links, vocabulary, lesson plans

Sacramento's Delta History
includes good overview of reclamation

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Sacramento History Online © 2003 - 2004