Stewards of the Land
"None of this would have been possible without John Wolfskill," says Al Bonin, agricultural superintendent of the Wolfskill orchards since 1979. Al and his assistant Tony Cristler don't fight grizzly bears or panthers and they cover the terrain in a dusty Dodge pickup or an old Jeep, not on horseback. When they host fruit-tasting tours and picnics in the shady groves, they're for food-and-wine-industry magnates, not gold miners. And yet, Al and Tony say they think of John Reid Wolfskill every single day, as they drive past the date palm and olive trees he planted more than a century ago, for example, and witness all the horticultural advances Wolfskill's land and labor helped spawn. "It just goes to show you," Al says, taking a break under the canopy of a pecan tree, "one guy really can make a difference." "The Wolfskill Experimental Orchards are a research treasure,” says Professor Ted DeJong, a pomologist and the site’s director. “Work there has resulted in the development and release of 55 new varieties - 29 strawberry, eight processing peach, seven cherry, five almond, three prune and three pistachio - as well as two almond-peach rootstocks.” Germplasm evaluation blocks for research and education have been conducted for 18 commodities – everything from apricot to almond to avocado. The orchards have been invaluable for plant breeding and environmental stress research, such as rain cracking with cherries, and testing cultural practices and tree physiology, like nitrogen requirements for prune and peach trees.
Excerpted from: "History Lessons," (pdf) from The Leaflet, UC Davis Plant Sciences, by Diane Nelson.