Kristin Delaplane's second book, "Solano's Gold: The People and Their Orchards" (Vacaville Museum, 1999, $30) is a history book specific to Solano County and orchard industry, but it addresses a bigger issue, too. Sadly, the bigger picture is the encroachment of development along the Interstate 80 corridor and the removal of orchards as the land is turned into housing tracts and malls.
As her history shows, the glory days for the orchard industry were short-lived and are long over.
The land in and around the Solano County hills was first ranched by those with Mexican land grants, then came the unsuccessful gold miners. As she points out, 40,000 prospectors came to California during a two-year period between 1848 and 1850 and only a few struck it rich. (One prospector who did moderately well, although he did not strike it rich either, was John Berry Hill, Delaplane's great-great-grandfather. She wrote about him in "A Gold Hunter: Memoirs of John Berry Hill.")
Many dejected miners later settled in Solano County and became farmers, ranchers or planted orchards. The main road from San Francisco to the gold fields in the Sierra, then as now, ran right through Solano and Yolo counties. Delaplane makes use of personal histories from 50 people and organizes the 176-page book so that readers can follow the orchard cycle from January through December.
This book was published by the Vacaville Museum to complement its current exhibit by the same name. More than three years in the making, the book offers an in-depth look at the history, methods, risks, and rewards of a piece of agricultural industry, fruit ranching. Delaplane, an oral historian, oversaw the collection of oral histories and wrote the book in collaboration with the museum curator, Sabine Goerke-Shrode. Philip Adam took 22 evocative black and white photos.
The book is available for $30, only through the Vacaville Museum. Books may be purchased at the museum or ordered over the phone and through the mail. For more information call the museum at 707/447-4513. The exhibit there will run through Jan. 16, 2000.
"This history reads almost like the 'Grapes of Wrath.' In fact, I think one could take this history and create a terrific film," said Delaplane.
"You have those who had great hopes of fortunes coming to the gold mines, only to become completely discouraged. Many of those men, knowing good land when they saw it, came to Solano County and realized their dream of becoming very wealthy men.
"Then came the years around the Depression, when fresh fruit was a luxury item; this coincided with competition and regulations coming from the irrigated San Joaquin Valley. Many, many farmers lost their farms altogether. Others just hung on by sheer grit.
"The fruit industry since then has never been what it was, but some have managed a living and others have experienced enough success with the land left to them by their ancestors. And some newcomers have arrived with fresh ideas (organic farming, niche marketing, vineyards) and made a go of it.
"I was most astounded by the large ethnic mix one encountered in farm life," she added. "Caucasians from many different backgrounds (Spanish, Italian, and a mix from the East Coast), Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, Mexicans. And because of the nature of a farm, the people interacted to a great degree.
"I was impressed by stories of how the children worked, too. What a shame that hasn't carried over. And, of course, one can't help but read about all the various varieties of fruits and feel that we have missed a great era. Barbara Comfort describes picking a special peach that was so delicate it was picked into a bucket of water so it wouldn't bruise. Compare that to the way fruit is picked today, as quickly as possible. To me it says something about our society and what we have perhaps had to give up to make it in this world. There are pieces of many stories in this book," she said.
Delaplane, who wrote "The Question Man" column for the San Francisco Chronicle for many years, is the daughter of the late Stanton Delaplane, also a longtime Chronicle columnist. One of the many interesting experiences she had while compiling and writing this book was coming across her father's own oral history in a Mill Valley library, a history she did not know existed.
When she left the Chronicle, she decided to go a slightly different direction in her writing, mainly, the compiling of oral histories of families and business. The result is her own business, Masterpiece Memoirs (http://www.masterpiecememoirs.com). And that skill also added a lot to "Solano's Gold."
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