California Agricultural Resources Archive

While Hollywood and Silicon Valley may dominate public perceptions of California, for the last half century California has led the nation in agricultural production and exports. California produces over 400 commodities, many of which are specialty crops not grown elsewhere in the country. California supplies a third of the food on Americans' tables.

Without a doubt, the University of California (UC) and its Agricultural Extension Service have had a key role in the development of California agriculture. Beginning in 1913, UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) farm advisors were placed in every county that formed a farm bureau and agreed to sponsor and support the work of the advisor. While arrangements have evolved, UC Cooperative Extension advisors continue to reside and work in all 58 California counties today.

In 2016, under an agreement with the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR), the University of California, Merced Library began a project to archive, preserve, and provide access to UCCE historic records. Working with county offices, we have uncovered hundreds of linear feet of materials on crop research, agricultural production, technology, land use, socioeconomic development, 4-H and youth development, among other subjects. These materials offer a firsthand look at the changes in California communities over the past century, and at a face of California that has global impacts. 

In addition to preserving and providing access to the records of county offices, we are working to surface and improve online access to publications and other information sources about California agriculture. The search tool we are developing on this site will include UCANR publications in Internet Archive, HathiTrust, as well as archival materials we have digitized.

With support from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, we will continue our work with county offices in the San Joaquin Valley as well as other regions of the state. Our aims include:

  • digitizing county reports and photographs
  • generating topical indices using natural language processing tools
  • engaging 4-H students in the curation of materials
  • developing digital story maps to enable discovery by location and time period


History of the Cooperative Extension Service

At the turn of the previous century, growing concern over the quality of life for rural Americans and the flight of young adults to rapidly developing cities prompted President Theodore Roosevelt to appoint a Commission on Country Life in 1908. Underpinning his charge and the report of the Commission in 1909 was a conviction that farmers were the foundation of the nation and that improving the conditions of rural America was vital to the welfare of the nation as a whole.

One of the direct outcomes of the Commission’s recommendations was the passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914, which established a national extension service to place the knowledge generated at land-grant universities into the hands of farmers and other rural citizens. The Agricultural Extension Service formalized and built upon existing efforts of land-grant universities to enhance the knowledge of farmers and apply scientific discoveries for improved agricultural practices.

The work of the Extension Service has encompassed more than improved agricultural practices; the first statewide director described the aim to impact broader “rural affairs” and “promote the social institutions of country life.” In the early decades, advisors worked within the community to organize: efforts during the first and second world wars; fire protection districts; improved road and infrastructure campaigns; hot lunch programs in schools; community beautification; and local economic outlook meetings. Home demonstration agents, later known as home advisors, taught rural women subjects ranging from food preparation and nutrition to healthy child development and home economics. Under 4-H, county extension offices have engaged youth in the county in projects to build knowledge and leadership skills.

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