One of our talented Master Gardeners, Judi Gerber, is also a historian who has recently published the book Farming in Torrance and the South Bay from the Arcadia Press “Images of America” Series.
The book is loaded with photos of Torrance and surrounding communities from the days, not so long ago, when LA County’s South Bay was home to major agriculture, including flower farms, hay and bean production, dairies and much more. Judi shares great information: for example, I never knew that Gardena was once known as the “Berry Capital of Southern California” and that Lomita once billed itself as the “Celery Capital of the World”.
An image Judi shares in the book is that of flower stalls all along Pacific Coast Highway, selling the snapdragons, carnations and marigolds produced in the flower fields of Redondo and Hermosa Beach during the first half of the 20th Century. Contrast this early, pastoral Pacific Coast Highway with today’s strip-mall lined, traffic-jammed PCH. It is a vivid example of how much Los Angeles has changed in a few short decades.
I asked Judi how she became interested in local agricultural history. She was born in the South Bay, grew up in Torrance, and remembers visiting a local dairy as a child. As an adult, she became involved with the Torrance Farmer’s Market, and saw a need to let people know about the remaining local farming community and how to preserve it. Along with a busy career in public administration, she began a study of local farming history. Older residents of the area were very helpful, offering stories and photos, eager to share this part of their past.
As her history project evolved, she somehow managed to squeeze in volunteer work with our Master Gardener Program. As a UC Master Gardener, she leads a gardening program for senior citizens at Bartlett Senior Center in Torrance.
She also blogs as “LA Farm Girl” at http://www.lafarmgirl.blogspot.com/
and has published a variety of articles about farming in California. “My goal is to get people to support small farmers and become more aware of city farming”, said Judi. “California still produces more than half of our nation’s fruits and vegetables. As urban dwellers we often forget that. It’s a story that needs to be told.”
Los Angeles County Celery Production
Bill Mertz (left) and Carl Tasche pose with their celery in LA County's Lomita, the former "Celery Capital of the World". (Courtesy of Bill Mertz).