Summer 2018

The Great Artichoke War of 1935

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Photo: Liz Birnbaum

The salty, sandy soil on the north coast of Santa Cruz County, California, makes it ideal for growing artichokes. In the 1930s, it was also the perfect place for racketeering. Back then, artichokes were so popular that some heavies from the Union Pacific Produce Company decided to lowball farmers, then sell the crops for more than double the price they paid. To keep complainers in line, they roughed up push-cart peddlers and sabotaged trucks.

“This story has all the violence, deceit and mobster-esque excitement of the Prohibition Era,” write Jody Biergiel Colclough, N06, and co-authors in their new book about Santa Cruz food history, Harvesting Our Heritage (scheritagefood.com). The “Artichoke War,” as the press dubbed it, came to a head in 1935, when New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia swore no artichokes would enter his city until the racketeers were caught. They were soon tried and found guilty.

Among the other food tales in the book: the county’s run as an international hops exporter, the growth in popularity of once-rare strawberries, and the sad story of a clam-digging craze that helped decimate Pismo clams, which once grew to several pounds. “Every generation must study the stories of the past and add its chapter,” the authors write. “This is our offering.”

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