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Literary Corner

How agriculture became Santa Barbara County's largest industry | Judith Dale

From the 28 stories about Santa Barbara County's history, landscape and traditions | Judith Dale series
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Today, millions of people live in cities, and yet, there is still access to a wide variety of food at our local supermarkets. This all is due to modern agriculture, which has allowed people to evolve from small family groups of hunter-gathers to large sedentary civilizations. 

While California has become the No. 1 agricultural state in the country, producing over $50 billion in farm products, Santa Barbara County ranks 12th in the state for agricultural production among 48 counties.

Below is a brief history of how we got here:

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Jorge Guevara packs up produce from Rancho la Familia at the Orcutt Farmers Market in June 2020. 

Workers in a field east of Santa Maria harvest strawberries in April 2020. Strawberries remained the king of Santa Barbara County's crops that year, contributing $727.4 million to the total $8.1 billion value of the county's agricultural production, according to the 2020 Crop Report from the Santa Barbara County Agriculture Commissioner's Office.

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2020 top 10 crop values.jpg

Strawberries far outdistance the value of other crops in Santa Barbara County's top 10 agricultural products, as shown in this chart from the 2020 Crop Report produced by the Agricultural Commissioner's Office.

28 stories about Santa Barbara County's history, landscape and traditions | Judith Dale

Get better acquainted with our beautiful slice of California with this collection of columns from Judith Dale highlighting the culture, geography and history of the Central Coast.

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At one time, Hollister and his partners, the Dibblee Brothers, owned all the land between Refugio Beach and Point Conception. They owned all the land grants around Point Concepcion, the Ortega family’s Refugio Grant, the La Purisima Mission lands and the San Julian Ranch.

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We often overlook and take for granted the importance of the river to our past development and more importantly to our future development and quality of life.

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The area around Guadalupe has evolved through many stages — from Chumash villages, to Spanish rule under Mission La Purisima, to a Mexican land grant, an immigrant farming community, a railroad town, and a modern agricultural city.

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We have the perfect setting for fires: thousands of acres of wilderness with rugged terrain and few roads; rainy winter weather that allows grass and brush to grow, followed by months of hot, dry weather; prevailing winds as well as sundowner winds; and people, who are the cause of most fires.

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Judith Dale looks back to 1920, offering a timeline of progress the U.S. has made over the last 100 years. In most areas such as life expectancy, industry, technology, and position in the world, the U.S. has come a long way. However, many of the social/cultural challenges the country faced in the 1920s, are still with us today.

Former mayor of Buellton, Judith Dale built her career in education and continues to serve the local community as Santa Barbara County 3rd District representative to the Library Advisory Board and board member of the Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital Foundation. She can be reached at


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