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MY LIFE WITH PLANTS: Valley of Heart's Delight

By Jim Bishop.

The Santa Clara Valley stretches about 30 miles from the San Francisco peninsula in the north to the town of Hollister in the south. It sits atop some of the most productive farmland in the world. Decades before it gained international fame as "Silicon Valley", it was known at the "Valley of Heart's Delight". You can view a 1948 promotional film at: With a high concentration of farms and orchards, and as long as your heart's delight included a healthy dose of stone fruits, the moniker was mostly true. Until 1960 the valley was the largest canning and fruit producing area in the world. By the late 70's, it had been mostly urbanized with tract homes and cookie-cutter office buildings. Still there were remnants of its agricultural past. As one entered the valley from the south on Highway 101, there were numerous fruit stands offering amazing deals on under and oversized fruits and vegetables. I wondered what someone would do with 100 bell peppers or a 5 pound head of cauliflower for a $1.

Gilroy in the southern part of the valley is still known as the "Garlic Capital of the World", but today has been eclipsed by China's production. Gilroy also produced a lot of basil, oregano and tomatoes and when passing through on the highway it was impossible not to think of Italian food. Large trucks overloaded with ripe tomatoes left tomato juice stains on the freeway as they delivered mountains of tomatoes to the canneries in the San Jose.

At the San Jose airport, California State Historic Landmark 945, marked the spot where in 1853 the first successful hive of honeybees was imported into California. Mariani Fruit Packing was still headquartered in Cupertino and had not yet relocated its large processing and fruit drying operation to Vacaville, CA. Once on the way to Monterey, we noticed mile after mile of railroad cars along the freeway loaded with large lumpy looking sugar beets. Could these have inspired the author of the "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"?

Santa Clara, however, was most famous for its apricot, prune, plum, and cherry orchards. Most of the people that had grown up in the valley hated apricots. They had picked the fruit as summer jobs and eaten one too many fruits. I however, had never eaten a fresh apricot and thought they were the most wonderful thing I'd ever tasted. Likewise, I'd only tasted fresh cherries a few times. There were a few cherry orchards that remained. When the fruit was ripe, you could drive through and purchase paper bags of cherries that had just been picked. Cupertino, home of Apple Computer, still has an annual Cherry Festival.

Near Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, I discovered a family-owned market, Imahara's, that had the freshest and most perfect produce I've ever seen. Their baseball sized peaches perfumed the house and dripped juice everywhere when you bit into them. The sweet and shiny strawberries were sold by size and ripeness. When the owners realized that I was grilling the sashimi tuna, they refused to sell it to me.

In 1980, a major infestation of Ceratitis capitata, the Mediterranean fruit fly, was discovered in the Bay Area. By 1981, when ground spraying, releasing sterile male flies and collecting fruit from backyards failed to control the fly, Governor Jerry Brown authorized nightly aerial spraying of malathion mixed with molasses by a fleet of helicopters. The controversy over the spraying led to the Governor's chief of staff drinking a glass of malathion at a press conference. The California National Guard set up checkpoints and confiscated tons fruit. The pest was eradicated....however, by then I was frequently traveling for work and was surprised to return home after a week-long trip to find my car parked in an airport lot covered with layers of a sticky goo that made it nearly impossible to see out of the windshield. That Halloween in San Francisco, there were almost as many Mediterranean fruit fly costumes as men in drag or leather.

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