Agricultural History of Coastways

By Mary A. Clayton

Photos are from the Coastways Archives

          The first farmers here, the Ohlone Indians, were mainly hunters and gatherers, but they also used an age-old farming technique to assure their harvest of grass seed. From time to time they burned off invasive brush, which left a nutrient-rich ash and open fields where native grasses could thrive.
          With the establishment of a mission in Santa Cruz in 1794, the Indian way of life changed abruptly. By 1814 Indians were tending almost 3000 head of cattle between here and Pescadero, providing meat, tallow and hides for the Padres. They also raised wheat, corn, melons and potatoes near the mission. During the 64-year mission period the Ohlone and their culture were virtually wiped out, the Ohlone by disease and their culture by default.
          When the missions were secularized in 1834, they gave their lands to deserving officials. Don Castro, nephew of the governor, received the 18,000 acre Ranch Punta Del Año Nuevo, which extended from Pescadero through Coastways. After several changes in ownership, the Steele brothers, dairymen with large herds north of the bay, leased the Ranch in 1861 with an option to buy which they later exercised. They sold butter at $1.00 a pound, and cheese. One of their decendants still raises cattle nearby.
          My father, David Atkins, bought Coastways in 1917 when I was three. Father continued the Steele tradition of raising dairy cattle and grain, but under a foreman; his firm, Atkins, Kroll & Co. demanded his time and attention in San Francisco.We took the three-hour drive down to the ranch every summer in two cars, Mother with the four who got carsick and Father with the other three. We all learned how to milk. The cream went to the city once a week, and the milk went to us and the pigs.

David and five of the kids, 1927 - I'm the second from the right
          As a businessman, Father didn't like having an asset which didn't even pay it's taxes. He realized that by developing water he could put about 50 of his 476 acres to more intensive use. In the mid-twenties he constructed a large reservoir for water which came by gravity-flow from New Years Creek via a lengthy flume down the narrow wooded canyon, and continued in a long, open ditch to the reservoir. He learned the hard way that flumes don't last very long under a canopy of trees. Falling trees and mudslides soon put it beyond repair. So he and his neighbor built a small dam lower on New Years Creek, closer to the power lines. We both pump from this reservoir to this day. Father then leased the land to a grower of Artichokes and Brussels Sprouts, but found that in dry years there still wasn't enough water. He enlarged the main reservoir to it's present size, 110 acre-feet, and began diverting additional water through an underground pipe from Elliot Creek.
          During his lifetime there was only one year when the ranch was able to meet taxes out of income, and that was the year the timber contract was signed. I know Father regretted it; it was an ecological and visual disaster. There are laws now which regulate timber harvesting. If our calamity served to strengthen timber-harvesting controls, perhaps it was for the best, but it was an enormous price to pay for a year in the black.
          This outlines the major agricultural changes; from seeds to beef cattle and field crops, to dairy cattle and feed, and then to row crops. Father died in 1956 and mother in 1969, leaving the ranch to the seven of us. Four wanted no part in joint ownership, and in 1973, the other three plus one husband joined together and bought out the four to prevent the ranch from being sold. We wanted to make the ranch productive enough to pay not only the taxes, but to pay off the debt, repay start-up costs, pay the manager and crew, and hopefully provide a reasonable retun on invested capital to the partners, all of whom were retired.
          My nephew Jon Hudson, whose parents are co-owners, came here as manager. It was obvious to him that neither Artichokes nor Brussells Sprouts would bring in enough to carry on. He made a survey of crops which had the potential of doing well here. Our soils are far from meeting U.S. Department of Agriculture standards for prime soil, but Jon improves them annually; Our moderate climate elliminates many crops which need more winter chill or summer heat than we have at Coastways. However, we are located on a well-travelled highway which is filled, summer and winter, with cars full of prospective customers. By selling directly to consumers, we could reduce picking, trucking and packing-house costs. In return, our mainly urban customers could enjoy a pleasant outing and buy fresher, higher quality produce at lower prices than they can in town. So Jon made his choices - Artichokes, Kiwifruit, Olallieberries, and later Christmas trees, pumpkins and other specialty crops. He put a few beef cattle on steeper land which was too shallow to farm.
          The Kiwi's were planted in 1973, but it took five years for them to produce at a commercial level. Because of our soils and climate, our best production is about one-quarter of what can be produced in the delta, with it's deep, rich soil and greater teperature range. The Kiwi's bloom in May, and are harvested when the sugar content reaches a certain point; otherwise they would never ripen. They are hard as rocks when picked but can be held stored in a cool area for as long as six months; they ripen in a week or two at room temperature.
          Next he planted olallieberries, a hybrid of a wild blackberry, a youngberry and a loganberry. These came into bearing in 18 months and became our first U-Pick crop. This berry has high flavor, is sweeter than most blackberries, and is great with cereal and ice-cream. The berries are ready in early summer and can be held in the freezer for a year.
          Jon started the Chritmas trees despite an overplanting in the Half Moon Bay area. We were attracting many customers from the Santa Cruz and South Bay areas, where there were fewer opportunities to choose and cut. The trees tie in well with Kiwi sales, and offered Jon's wife Katie the chance to expand our sales with Kiwi-Wreaths, gift packs, and other seasonal items.
          Jon replaced some of the Artichokes to plant the Christmas trees and pumpkins. He started with Douglas Fir and Monterey Pines, both of which are native here. The pines were ready in four years and each time one is cut we start a new tree. The firs, however, took much longer to grow to commercial size, and were only ready in 1988. Jon has also included a few Sequoias, and they are doing well.
          Along with Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins, Jon has diversified by using other varieties like the "Trick or Treat" which has naked seeds (wonderful roasted), and the "Jack-be-Little", a tiny edible pumpkin. He found that Indian corn did well here, and planted a minature species. In 1988 he added several varieties of squash and gourds to his planting schedule.
          Jon and his brother Tim manage production and commercial sales, while Katie oversees direct marketing and promotion, from mailing cards to our thousands of customers when each crop is ready, to advertising, to arranging press conferences and educational tours, to offering tractor-pulled hayrides to school children who learn first-hand about growing our various crops.

Please feel free to call for more information and reservations.
(650) 879-0414

Return to the Coastways Main Page

© 1996, 1997, 1998 Coastways Ranch