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Japanese Immigrants and the History of Rice in California  

Yu Tokunaga

The cultivation of California rice began in 1909 when a Japanese agricultural engineer succeeded in growing short-grain Japonica rice varieties in Butte County. With commercial cultivation starting in 1912, rice fields rapidly expanded across Northern California. Japanese immigrants, however, continued to eat short-grain rice imported from Japan with a strong sense of affection. This situation dramatically changed in 1918, at around the end of World War I. The war led to an expansion of demand for food worldwide and a serious shortage of rice in Japan, resulting in the steep rise of rice prices and the Kome Sōdō (Rice Riots). The Japanese government decided to ban Japanese rice exports to prevent further inflation and solve the food shortage problem in Japan. This policy marked a turning point from which Japanese immigrants in the mainland United States began to mainly eat California rice. It also sparked serious debates among the Japanese who had heavily relied on Japanese-grown rice for their daily diet, forcing them to redefine their permanent residence in the United States not simply as a place to live but also as the land that provided them with their major source of nutrients. In the 1920s, California rice became a staple for ethnic Japanese residents and an export item to their homeland. This series of changes marked an important period in a history in which the Japanese immigrant experience intersected with the development of US agriculture and the circulation of food around the Pacific Ocean. The history of California rice from the 1900s to the 1930s reveals the shifting US-Japan trade relations as well as the transnational process in which food kept Japanese immigrants culturally connected to the homeland while further rooting them to life in the United States as permanent residents and consumers of California rice.

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Agriculture and the Environment  

Steven Stoll

During the Holocene, the present geological epoch, an increasing portion of humans began to manipulate the reproduction of plants and animals in a series of environmental practices known as agriculture. No other ecological relationship sustains as many humans as farming; no other has transformed the landscape to the same extent. The domestication of plants by American Indians followed the end of the last glacial maximum (the Ice Age). About eight thousand years ago, the first domesticated maize and squash arrived from central Mexico, spreading to every region and as far north as the subarctic boreal forest. The incursion of Europeans into North America set off widespread deforestation, soil depletion, and the spread of settlement, followed by the introduction of industrial machines and chemicals. A series of institutions sponsored publically funded research into fertilizers and insecticides. By the late 19th century, writers and activists criticized the technological transformation of farming as destructive to the environment and rural society. During the 20th century, wind erosion contributed to the depopulation of much of the Great Plains. Vast projects in environmental engineering transformed deserts into highly productive regions of intensive fruit and vegetable production. Throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries, access to land remained limited to whites, with American Indians, African Americans, Latinas/os, Chinese, and peoples of other ethnicities attempting to gain farms or hold on to the land they owned. Two broad periods describe the history of agriculture and the environment in that portion of North America that became the United States. In the first, the environment dominated, forcing humans to adapt during the end of thousands of years of extreme climate variability. In the second, institutional and technological change became more significant, though the environment remained a constant factor against which American agriculture took shape. A related historical pattern within this shift was the capitalist transformation of the United States. For thousands of years, households sustained themselves and exchanged some of what they produced for money. But during the 19th century among a majority of American farmers, commodities took over the entire purpose of agriculture, transforming environments to reflect commercial opportunity.