Let’s talk about those farmers that “sell out” for a minute.
Realizing that all of us have a nasty tendency to throw in the kitchen sink when making passionate points whether it’s about today’s gonzo politics or concerns about how Manteca is growing, I’m not too sure anyone really is blaming farmers for Manteca’s woes — real or conceived — just because at one point they likely sold land to someone who in turn either built a home to house a household that does not make a direct living off the land or eventually built hundreds of homes where hundreds of cows once roamed or thousands or almond trees once blossomed.
Civilization started with farming. Until an effort was made to plant crops man was either a nomadic gatherer or a hunter. The ability to grow our own food led to people staying in one spot and growing roots. There’s more to it than that, but civilization would never have been possible if we couldn’t find a way to fill our bellies without wandering halfway around creation.
The reason there is a Manteca today is because of farmers. They settled in the sandy plains to raise families by raising crops to feed them and to ship to markets where civilization had advanced so much that they lost the ability to feed the population on land within the immediate area.
It was inevitable that one of those early farmers would in the vernacular of today’s scorched earth politics “sell out” and allow part of his land to be used to build houses, churches, stores, and concerns where men toil creating things rather than toiling the soil. Joshua Cowell, who some apparently would argue was guilty of the original sin in terms of all that ails Manteca today, happened to be the farmer that “sold out” first. By doing so it lead to the creation of Manteca and planted the seeds for traffic, crime, and all the other things that people bellyache about today. That’s not to say they’re not legitimate issues although there is plenty of room for interpreting how bad, good, or hopeless things may be.
By the time 1918 rolled around half of Cowell’s original farm had been transformed in a building boom Manteca has yet to replicate in terms of how fast the community was growing. People exceeding the 15 mph speed limit was a problem. The constable was making arrests almost weekly for what some in the pages of the Manteca Enterprise lamented as “big city crimes.” There were ongoing debates about whether the newly christened city had enough law enforcement or whether the volunteer fire department was adequately equipped and whether public safety overall could handle growth.
By 1998, the first almond tree was yanked out south of the 120 Bypass in order to build homes. It happened nearly two decades after the good people of California at the insistence of Manteca’s residents at the time obliterated successful dairies to build the 120 Bypass.
The farmers didn’t want to sell. They didn’t want traffic whizzing by their fields and pastures at all times of the day and night. And they didn’t want to necessarily get out of farming.
Those that didn’t “sold out” and bought larger acreage far away from growth to continue farming. Those that did want out — read that retire — cashed in their equivalent of everyone else’s 401k. That equivalent was selling their land.
Family farmers that account for 100 percent of the agricultural endeavors in the South County are notoriously land rich and cash poor. That doesn’t mean they are destitute. But they don’t rely on someone else for a paycheck. Realistically most have one or two paychecks a year depending upon their crops. Dairy farmers may get “paid” more often but in order for the government to meet its objective of not having milk become unaffordable to many Americans as well as not to drive dairies out of business, they are often on the short end of the stick when it comes to the milk price support program.
But that’s straying a bit from the accusation that somehow farmers are “selling out” when they sell their land for other purposes than farming.
Few of us would be in Manteca if farmers hadn’t “sold out”. Land where Park Place and Laurel Glenn apartments — two places I once rented at — were built on former farmland. My first home I bought in Manteca was built in 1953 on Pine Street on land that once was covered with almond trees. The gophers and their subterranean freeway system reminded me of that almost daily. My current home in Powers Tract is where Ed Powers once raised watermelons and such before going over to the “dark side” in the early 1950s to develop the city’s first modern-era tract home subdivision after seeing a need for those returning from war to have homes where they could start families and get on with their lives.
There are a number of growth-related issues in Manteca that must be thoroughly debated and addressed. However treating homes as if they are a street drug of some sort and implying farmers who sell their land are drug dealers with developers no better than drug pushers ignores the fact we all need a place to live.
And making farmers villains while our stomachs are full and living in homes built on what was once farmland sets a new standard for hypocrisy.
Again, I don’t think that was the intent but if it looks like a duck . . .