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Harvest time a reminder of changes in ag trends

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A backward glance stretching to a half-century ago provides a graphic example how farming has changed over the years in the Tracy area.

Row crops, once dominant in the Tracy area, have given way to tree crops, mostly almonds, but also walnuts and cherries, and that trend is continuing.

That trend has been underway for the half century, but looking at the Press coverage of the harvests underway in Tracy farming at that time of year brings the shifts into sharper focus.

In late October 1971, coverage in the Tracy Press told that the canning tomato harvest was ending in fields scattered throughout the Tracy area, and the H.J. Heinz Co. factory had just completed its 1971 tomato run after processing close to a half-million tons of tomatoes.

At that time of the year in 1971, the tomato harvest had moved from machine-harvesting of canning tomatoes to the picking, packing and shipping of green tomatoes for fresh markets. Ace Tomato Co. on Sixth Street and Triple E Produce in Carbona were both going at top speed.

One of the Esformes family members at Triple E reported: “We’re at the peak of the season. Demand is good, and we’re shipping all the fruit we can.”

That wasn’t always the case in the market-tomato business, but 1971 was a good year for growers and packers alike.

Now, the Heinz plant, a Tracy icon for more than a half-century, and both market-tomato packing sheds are history.

And we can’t forget beans. After all, Tracy held the annual California Dry Bean Festival for several decades.

A story and photo in the Press in late October 1971 told how the harvesting of dry beans, mostly baby limas and blackeyes, was in its final stages in the Tracy area.

Threshing of cut beans lying in windrows in Tracy area fields was being pushed in response to weather reports of a major storm approaching Central California.

Doug Hensley and John Minata, partners in Rhodes Warehouse, reported they were receiving beans up to midnight as the hurry-up harvesting was moving ahead.

“This has been one of the latest bean harvests on record,” the Press article quoted Hensley, who had been given the unofficial title of Tracy’s “bean broker” for his skills in negotiating the sometimes-fickle bean market.

It wasn’t long after the article on the bean harvest was published in 1971 that Hensley and Minata met with local farmers to establish Rhodes as a bean-grower cooperative. Changes in the structure of Tracy’s farm economy were already taking place. A half-century later, distribution centers are a growing economic engine in our town, but Tracy still has an active, ever-changing and largely successful agricultural economy. Tracyites of all economic involvements need to be mindful of that.

NDNU staying alive

Notre Dame deNamur University, the beleaguered Catholic university that after five years pulled out its Tracy outreach campus in the Opera House building last year, is now going through a new effort to stay alive. It’s in the process of selling its prized Belmont campus.

The buyer is NDNU’s San Francisco Peninsula neighbor. Stanford University, according to an announcement sent to Roger Birdsall and other Tracyites who worked at bringing Notre Dame deNamur to Tracy, if only briefly.

Stanford plans to use the well-situated campus on Ralston Avenue for its own classes, but which ones have not been identified. Notre Dame deNamur apparently will provide graduate classes, including those for teaching creditionals, but how Stanford and NDNU plan to operate on the same campus remains unclear.

The press release announcing the agreement reached by the two universities merely states, “The potential transaction supports NDNU’s ongoing transition to a primarily graduate university while providing Stanford with additional space to support its people and programs.”

Whatever becomes of the campus sale seems certain to have nothing to do with Tracy. But how about a Stanford outreach campus in the Opera House? Probably not, but stranger things are happening in the education world.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at shm@tracypress.com.

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