Sat02132016

News

SPLAT targets data, outreach as airplane noise continues

SPLAT targets data, outreach as airplane noise continues


Graphic courtesy of Don Gardner
Activists claim that a new SFO flight path leaves a “sound shadow” that impacts Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.

Sky Posse Los Altos Team – more simply known as SPLAT – seeks to squelch the noise...

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Schools

Los Altos High student-run charity plans '5 Gallon Gala'

Los Altos High student-run charity plans '5 Gallon Gala'


Courtesy of Lia Evard
Water by Youth members gave Egan students a chance to carry a 40-pound Jerry can, to see how difficult it is to obtain water in developing nations.

Water by Youth, a club at Los Altos High School, is making a splash by pla...

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Community

What would you do with a box of cookies? Local Girls Scouts help Tanzanian orphanage

What would you do with a box of cookies? Local Girls Scouts help Tanzanian orphanage


Courtesy of Alicia Madden
Sales of local Girl Scout cookies support service projects, such as funding an orphanage in the village of Mto wa Mbu in Tanzania.

Girl Scout cookies – whether you think of them as a treat, a tradition or a diet comp...

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Sports

Scoreless spells sink LA boys

Scoreless spells sink LA boys


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos High point guard Nolan Brennan attempts a shot in Friday’s game versus Palo Alto. He scored eight points in the loss.

There have been several games this season in which the Los Altos High boys basketball t...

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Comment

New 'York' values

New 'York' values


Hughes

 

As we have witnessed California suffer through one of its worst droughts in history over the past few years, all of us, I’m sure, have been keenly aware of our surroundings and have done a small part in trying to conserve wa...

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Special Sections

Getting a charge  out of the Volt

Getting a charge out of the Volt


Courtesy of Chevrolet
The 2016 Chevrolet Volt can be driven up to 50 miles on the power stored in its batteries.

Just five years ago, we wondered in this column what the power supply would be for the car of the future. Gasoline, diesel, electric ba...

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Business

Nearing V-Day: Shops stock sweets, treats

Nearing V-Day: Shops stock sweets, treats


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos resident Ella Roosakos, 11, with her mother, Gail, puzzles over which Gourmet Works sweets to buy as a valentine for Ella’s friend.

The gift-buying rush isn’t exclusive to Christmas. It may jump over...

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People

ALAN RODNEY MILLS

ALAN RODNEY MILLS

Alan Rodney Mills, PhD, 83, of Los Altos passed away peacefully on Saturday, January 30th, 2016. He was born in Rochdale, England in 1933 and came to California in 1962. He was a proud alumni of Manchester Grammar in England, University of Liverpoo...

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Stepping Out

PYT 'Gets Famous'

PYT 'Gets Famous'


Lyn Flaim Healy/Spotlight Moments Photography
Renee Vetter of Palo Alto, left, and Megan Foreman of Los Altos star in Peninsula Youth Theatre’s “Judy Moody Gets Famous.” Performances are scheduled Friday and Saturday.

Peninsula...

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Spiritual Life

A time to prepare: Fasting for Lent isn't limited to food

 

Today is Ash Wednesday, which in the Christian calendar marks the beginning of Lent – the 40 days of preparation for Resurrection Sunday, otherwise known as Easter.

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Inside Mountain View

New right-to-lease ordinance promises relief for renters

New right-to-lease ordinance promises relief for renters


Mountain View Tenants Coalition/Facebook
Residents gather in the fall to protest Mountain View’s rising rents. Rent relief is on the way in the form of a new ordinance.

A controversial Mountain View law requiring landlords to provide lease opt...

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Forgotten fruit: Los Altos History Museum unearths the tale of tomatoes


What do you get when you cross Los Altos in 1917 with World War I and a great weather cycle?

According to the Los Altos History Museum, the answer is a lot of tomatoes – 4,800 tons to be exact.

Old photo sparks curiosity

It’s tomato season, and Karen Purtich, a volunteer at the Los Altos History Museum, noticed a photograph in the museum’s “Early Los Altos and Los Altos Hills” (Arcadia Publishing, 2010), co-authored by Don McDonald, that sparked her curiosity.

The picture was of a Los Altos fruit stand at the 1917 Santa Clara County Fair. The town plan had been filed a decade prior, in 1907, and Los Altos was still in the process of selling land and advertising itself as a flourishing community.

“The Santa Clara County Fair was an opportunity for people to show off,” said Laura Bajuk, the museum’s executive director. “You wanted to show how productive your community is.”

The photograph depicts a town abundant with fruit, including 1,500 tons of green and 200 tons of dried apricots that year – not a surprise to most local residents, given the ongoing association of Los Altos with apricots. However, the number of tomatoes produced, 4,800 tons, flabbergasted members of the museum.

“Just the amount of tomatoes was either an error in statement, an added zero or something else, because you just couldn’t see that many tomatoes growing here,” said McDonald, longtime museum volunteer and city historian.

According to McDonald, the number created much in-house debate. However, they reached a general consensus that the number implied a much larger Los Altos than the city we see today.

“Most of the land for tomatoes had to be flat,” he said. “The whole area between El Camino Real and the Bay was just perfect for tomatoes. I don’t know why, but that’s what it was.”

However, the perfect microclimate wasn’t the only reason Los Altos produced tomatoes so prolifically in the early 20th century. The forgotten tale of the tomatoes is in fact a complex story involving World War I, young Los Altos orchards and racial prejudice.

The forgotten fruit

In 1917, World War I was in full throttle. Although the U.S. had yet to enter the conflict, industry was heavily affected.

“A world at war means that fruit supplies were disrupted terribly,” Bajuk said. “The areas that aren’t at war can produce food and make money. So (Los Altos was) profiting from the war.”

Los Altos was fortunate enough to boast the agricultural resources needed to meet the increased demand for fruit. Coincidentally, farmers experienced an ideal weather cycle that year.

“We found that 1917 was a fabulous year to be a farmer,” Bajuk said. “You just couldn’t screw up. … You could practically throw your seeds on the ground and there’d be trees the next day.”

However, the orchards were still young. According to Bajuk, it took several years for an orchard to be profitable enough to make up for the cost of labor.

“Only when they’re abundant do they make sense,” she added.

When the orchard trees weren’t growing, Bajuk said, farmers planted “intercrops” that grew between other crops.

“While your trees are tiny, there’s lots of sun and so tomatoes make a good intercrop,” she noted.

Whether the abundance of tomatoes was a result of being grown as an intercrop, as part of a larger area than the Los Altos today or some combination of the two, tomatoes were indisputably an essential crop in the local agricultural economy.

“In the early ’20s, there were articles in the local paper and they talk about the impact of frost on crops.” Bajuk said. “The tomato crops are specifically mentioned.”

So why did the era of tomatoes vanish in the community’s memory while apricots are still a source of pride and fame?

“Those crops were farmed by Japanese farmers,” Bajuk said. “In earlier times, you tended to stay with your own folks. So it might be that this underrepresented population isn’t as remembered as they should be for the contribution they made by growing tomatoes.”

However, in the end, at least according to Bajuk, it’s all about appearance.

“When you get right down to it, tomatoes just aren’t as sexy as the fabulous lemon apricot,” she said. “And same with the prune. It’s harder to get excited about prunes. We remember the glamour and the drama, and that’s human nature. The hidden story of the tomato tends to go by the wayside.”

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