Eventually, the valley was populated with people from all over the world, such as Italy, Czechoslovakia and Japan. They became farmers and grew every color imaginable, from the lush greens and purples of vineyards to the bright, vibrant red of strawberries. The land became known as one that had flourished to its full, wondrous potential. It was fertile and rich and everyone wanted a piece of it to grow their own garden, raise their own family and build their own home.
People migrated to the valley amongst the greenery and acres of thriving crops. Young children played under the shade of plum trees or darted around, stealing cherries from neighbors’ orchards. Older kids biked up Montebello at night, when the stars were the only pinpricks of light in the pitch dark.
But within a few decades, a new age of overpopulation, automation and technology poisoned the orchard capital of the region. The Valley of Heart’s Delight was destroyed and forgotten, now known as the present day city, Cupertino, no longer the center of apple orchards, but rather futuristic Apple campuses. Farms started to disappear, and an entire community centered around agriculture was destroyed.
For decades, the Silicon Valley had thrived as a farming community. Locals grew fruits and wine grapes and made a living by sustaining themselves on the land. It was only with the coming of World War II and the wave of immigration that followed that Cupertino began to change. A war of massive scale, its after effects would shape the next half of the century and touch almost every aspect of American culture. Slaughter, poverty and tension plagued every nation differently, and the people of the world were left in a state of panic and fear. As World War II concluded, the world had to face another crisis — how could they reconcile the reality of the war they had been living in with their newfound peace, which they had longed for for so long. How could they look at fellow humans with trusting eyes and warm smiles, when moments before they were slaughtering one another? . People around the world struggled to escape the destruction left behind by the war, but also to get away from the damage that lay in their country and the cracks they had caused themselves.
On the other side of the world lay what seemed like a haven of orchards. Settled in the early 1900s, the whole area has always been fertile, and the first settlers to come to the area took advantage of that, founding orchards and vineyards alike. These settlers took to building their own communities, expanding into a group of farmers in the valley.
It was a perfect place to build a new life, to get a fresh start, away from the memories of war and death. The perfect place to move from chaos to stability. And people quickly realized that it wouldn’t be that way forever, and so off they went, to the land called Cupertino. As the population grew bigger and bigger and the area became more and more urbanized. Cupertino began to lose the orchards that had once been the heart of the region. Land that had once supported farmers’ crops was now instead used to accommodate the waves of immigrants. . The once small, peaceful community of farmers and lush green orchards were replaced one at a time. As taxes slammed down upon the farmers more and more, the idea of selling their farmland for people to build tract homes all over the Santa Clara Valley became more and more appealing. A valley once known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight slowly died away, only a memory to those who has lived in Cupertino at the time. . And from that one change, that one switch into urbanization came what we know now as the technological capital.
But before Cupertino was the Cupertino we know — before it was the home of Apple Inc. and other technology companies, before it was a city full of software engineers and high property taxes — it was Monta Vista. What is now an ever-developing city of innovation was once just a simple community of farmers gathered in a town called Monta Vista. “Monta,” not spelled with an e, but with an a, as a way to honor the Portuguese that lived in the valley.
Orchards and vineyards were the lifeline of the area, providing its inhabitants with everything they needed: food, a living, a culture. The land belonged to the calloused hands of laborers, of men and women who worked out on the field all day collecting apricots, prunes and cherries. But when Phylloxera, a bug, hit the region, the once lush green vineyards disappeared, leaving only the colorful orchards in the path. And it’s these orchard-working men and women that decided, then, to change the name of their city from Monta Vista to Cupertino.
According to historian and president of the Cupertino Historical Society museum Donna Austen, in 1955, the people of Monta Vista came together to take a vote — Do you want to become the City of Cupertino? One hundred eighty three voted no. Two hundred twenty five voted yes. And so Cupertino was created in the year of 1955, although the name was incorporated in 1950.
“[It] was 1955 that our city became officially a city, because San Jose was wanting to grab it, [and] they [citizens of Monta Vista] said we need to protect our region and so we did,” Austen said. “[The] name ‘Cupertino’ came from Saint Joseph of Copertino in Italy. [It’s] the only city in the world that’s named after them and the saint that came from [Italy]. [The] Cupertino name stuck and that’s how we got our name.”
And so, the small area made one of its first steps to becoming what we know to be Cupertino. But Monta Vista and Cupertino, both the school and the community, remains inescapably connected to its history of orchards. Austen recalls her childhood, the times where the orchards were the center of life.
“When I was a kid, we’d get out of school in June and we’d [dry] the ‘cots and cut the ‘cots and [we] would spread them on the trays — long flat trays — and then somebody would come and pick up that tray and they’d punch your card that you had and you’d get 20 cents for the lug — which is a lot of apricots to cut,” Austen said. “I remember I got seven whole dollars one summer, but that was a lot of money then.”
The orchards were everything to the valley. People would travel from San Francisco to Monta Vista on trains, where they would take a tour of the valley, better known back then as “blossom tours”. Now, it’s just a mere image of the past, one that Austen looks back on fondly. However, she also towards the future with excitement and hope for progression.
“The city is constantly evolving and I think that, you know, [if] you want to be a part of it you gotta participate and get involved,” Austen said. “I love Cupertino because it’s so culturally rich in just everything, in stories, in innovation and it’s just a beautiful city to live in.”
He was fresh out of the military and his family had just been released from the relocation camps of World War II. The tragedy had sucked them out of their normal lives and dropped them onto the merciless battlefield, both at home and abroad, but now they were finally free to return and continue their lives. And so they did. Industrial Technology teacher Ted Shinta’s father purchased a home in Sunnyvale and began working in a warehouse and was ready to settle down, but his mother (Shinta’s grandmother) was focused on something entirely different — strawberries.
“His mother wanted to grow strawberries. He didn’t, but his mother did. And so he took all his savings to start doing the strawberry farm,” Shinta said.
Unfortunately, Shinta’s grandmother’s dreams of farming acres of beautiful berries quickly collapsed and soon she was on the verge of bankrupcy. Shinta’s father decided to try his hardest to salvage his family and support his mother and left his job to help his mother farm — and it only continued from there. For the rest of his life, Shinta’s father continued to farm strawberries, until he handed it off to Gwen Shinta-Koda, Shinta’s sister, 23 years ago.
Shinta grew up in a world of endless fields and peaceful nature With a strawberry farm in his backyard and cherry and apricot orchards all over the area, there was no shortage of fresh produce for Shinta to glean. He spent his adolescence in the branches of cherry trees, laughing as he and his friends sneakily pushed fruit after fruit into their mouths until they were chased away. He passed his summers under the shade of apricot trees, cutting the apricots (or as “cots” as he calls them) in half to earn some pocket money. He witnessed the beauty of farming first-hand — the valley’s rich soil transforming a tiny seed into a tree heavy with sweet fruit. However, he also witnessed the valley being destroyed — housing projects sprouting out of the rich soil , transforming farmland into suburbia.
He was barely old enough to ride his bike when he began seeing signs of the urbanization of the valley — occasionally, he would even ride his bike to some of the new housing developments. He watched as his father was forced to relocate his farm again and again and again, moving from Sunnyvale to San Jose to finally its current location in Watsonville, due to the influx of buildings being built around him.
“So he moved his farm to [Watsonville] around maybe mid 70’s or something like that. See, so already, by then, the farming was quite a bit gone. When I was growing up, in elementary school, we’d study Santa Clara Valley and we called it ‘The Valley of Heart’s Delight’ because it had fruit trees and canneries and like my father’s strawberries,” Shinta said. “But as the value of land grew, you know, I mean, what are you going to do? You could keep growing, or you could sell your property and make a lot of money. And so that’s what most of these people did.”
By the time he was out of high school, Sunnyvale and San Jose were both significantly developed — the orchards he had spent much of his childhood at were now replaced by long rows of identical houses and tall towers of office buildings.
“For an old guy like me, sometimes you get lost,” Shinta said. “I mean at places that you think you should know where you’re going, there’s been so much development that you can’t even tell the roads. The name is the same, but it’s just like so different. You can’t even tell what’s there.”
Shinta explains that farming continues to be difficult in this modern age, not only because of development but also because of the time consuming work that orchards require.
“It’s risky to do farming because ... they plant the trees, they have to raise them for five to 10 years before they can even get any fruit and that’s a tremendous investment,” Shinta said. “You have [to pay for] the land, you have your taxes on the land, the water, the trees, the labor to take care of it,”
Shinta’s sister has dealt with the risks of farming first-hand, from pesky bugs to unpredictable weather to financial stress. Continue on to read how farmers in the Central Valley, like Gwen Shinta-Koda, presently pursue their love for agriculture in a high-tech day and age.
As Cupertino became flooded with more individuals than it could have ever provided for, farmers found it profitable to either sell their land or move elsewhere to continue growing crops. As a result, the Shinta family, whose farm was initially located in the Berryessa area, moved to their current location in Watsonville to make space for their strawberry farm. Gwen Shinta-Koda and her husband Rod Koda have now taken over her father’s farm and explain why the move from Berryessa to Watsonville was necessary.
“When you’re farming, you have to be a little bit isolated. I remember my dad would sometimes have problems in the evenings when we didn’t live on the farm,” Gwen said. “My dad farmed in the Berryessa area, but we lived in Sunnyvale. The equipment would get damaged, because after they’d leave the farm for the day, there would be vandalism.”
Ted Shinta, Industrial Technology teacher at MVHS, lived on the strawberry farm with his sister Gwen when he was a child and emphasizes that a lack of good soil and overcrowding pose significant challenges for fruit farmers.
“You think of the country as being crowded,” Ted said. “But then all you have to do is take a plane ride at nine and see that it’s mostly empty. [However,] most of that land is not arable.”
Due to drastic increases in the price of labor and production of organic fruit, small farms like the Shinta Kawahara Company are struggling to make profit. Although laborers are paid minimum wage, this amounts to $30,000 a year for each laborer and the owner’s profit margins are very little or even nonexistent.
“When I used to be a kid, you know you’re talking in the 60’s, I think [wage for labor] was 50 cents,” Ted said. “But now it’s like $15 an hour.”
In addition to labor costs, farmers need to cope with unpredictable weather conditions, the growth of competing, large farm corporations, the threat of insects and fungus and the delicacy of the strawberry fruit. Just a few weeks ago, hail rained down and destroyed hundreds of the strawberry plants at the Shinta-Kawahara company. The ice had shredded the leaves and damaged the flowers. Since it is very time-consuming to grow strawberries, which are planted in November and only harvested the next November, Rod and Gwen had no strawberries to sell for three weeks.
“Farming, especially something like strawberries or truck farming vegetables, it’s a gamble every year,” Ted said. “Every year you’re putting in all that money and then you could lose it all.”
But farmers must be able to adapt to devastating events, like the hail the Shinta-Kawahara Company had experienced. Rod explains that owning a small farm is beneficial when it comes to dealing with the consequences of heavy rain or insect infestations.
“[A large farm corporation is like] a big machine or a big ship,” Rod said. “Once they’re in a groove, it’s hard to turn a big ship. Seeing that we’re a small family farm, we’re nimble and we have the capability of changing quickly and adapting to different things.”
In order to maximize profits and be prepared for unexpected obstacles, Rod and Gwen are meticulous when it comes to growing crops and taking care of large or special orders from customers. Their long-time experience in farming has helped them grow to be better farmers and businesspeople, who are prepared for any challenge that might come their way.
Since they were young, Rod and Gwen both loved spending time on the farm or in their garden. After studying horticulture at Cal Poly, they both knew that pursuing a career in agriculture was their calling. In addition, the couple felt they did not fit in with the high-tech environment in San Jose. Soon after college, Rod and Gwen got married and inherited Gwen’s father’s farm. Rod manages the employees, handles the equipment and carries out special orders, while Gwen deals with more administrative tasks.
“The way I was taught from Gwen’s father was once you plant the plant, the plant has so much potential, like 100 percent potential,” Rod said. “Every mistake that you make along the way detracts from the production and the quality of the fruit.”
In addition to being thorough about maintaining the plants’ highest potential for success, Rod spends an immense amount of time reading research papers and talking with scientists to learn how to better maximize yield and profit while raising tasty and healthy strawberries. Rod expresses that no matter what industry one is in, it is important to be forward-thinking and up-to-date with current trends and scientific ideas.
“Sometimes, I see research projects that are being done out there and in a small way, I might try different trials here, just to see if it works,” Rod said. “And if it works, then I can expand on it and make it work best for me.”
In the Silicon Valley, agriculture is not the first thing that comes to mind when people think of popular careers. But nonetheless, it is a difficult career that requires great effort and extensive experience and skill, especially in the present era.
said. “It’s not just knowing how to farm. You have to know how to run the business to make the money to optimize your profits.”
“The thing about agriculture is it’s a business,” Ted
As for agriculture in Cupertino, the beautiful orchards that began this town’s history are not likely to return. Pavement and million dollar homes now cover the rich soil that birthed the fruits that named this valley.
“This area has changed,” Ted said. “I mean, you could have like your little garden and grow some vegetables but [it’s] pretty hard to have a farming operation in Cupertino when a condo is a million dollars. Yeah, there won’t be agriculture here again.”
Yet despite all the challenges small farmers are forced to endure and overcome, farmers like Gwen and Rod love their careers for the rewarding feeling that comes with making customers smile by sharing the fruits that they’ve grown.
“Even though there are so many challenges, we enjoy the agricultural industry because of the people, all the researchers, the farmers, the suppliers,” Gwen said. “It’s such a nice community, and we’re all helping each other.”