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Exhibit explores county's history of farming
March 09, 2013, 05:00 AM By Heather Murtagh Daily Journal Staff

While farms no longer make many local headlines, agriculture is quite important to San Mateo County's history.

Today, less than 1 percent of the workers in San Mateo County are in agriculture, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. But, according to the 1880 U.S. Census, 960 individuals of the 8,700 living in San Mateo County owned or leased their own farms. Next week, the San Mateo County History Museum will unveil its newest changing exhibit, "Plowing Ahead: Historic Peninsula Farming," focusing on the importance of agriculture locally.

"San Mateo County was the original bread basket for San Francisco," said Mitch Postel, San Mateo County Historical Association president.

The two-room exhibit, which will be on display for 18 months, includes some pieces that will be on display for the first time. While there are opportunities for people to get a hands-on feel for things like creating a knot or churning butter, visitors will also get to see first-hand two types of Knapp Side-Hill Plows, which were developed in Half Moon Bay, and horse-drawn farm equipment from Runnymede Farm in Woodside that has been meticulously restored by architect Adolph Rosekrans, then donated to the museum.

Curator Dana Neitzel explained how many of these pieces were new inventions created in San Mateo County. The Knapp Side-Hill Plows, for example, were created because R.I. Knapp found himself often repairing plows which weren't made to easily go back and forth on a hillside. With many hillside farms locally, his design allowed for the plow to have stronger, steel pieces and work on a hillside, which created a family business, Neitzel said.

Equipment on display showcases tools used in a variety of types of farming -- from dairy and grain to grapes and potatoes. In the second room, a collection of lithographs of Peninsula farms by Grafton Tayler Brown, the first black artist in California, in the late 1800s give an idea of what was grown and from where the families originally came. Few farmers of that time were actually from the area. Many had traveled west or even emigrated from other countries.

Most of the images were created in 1878 for the book "Moore & De Pue's Illustrated History of San Mateo County." Twenty-two of these pieces will be on display along with another six lithographs drawn by artists Joseph Britton and Jacques Rey for the same book.

The San Mateo County History Museum, 2200 Broadway in Redwood City, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and students, free for members and children 5 and under. For more information visit or call 299-0104.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

Info box:

San Mateo County crop did you knows

o Did you know that the first commercial planting of artichokes in California took place just north of Half Moon Bay in 1890s?

o Did you know San Mateo County's first commercial crop was Colma potatoes, sold in San Francisco just as the Gold Rush began?

o Did you know that Daly City was named for pioneer dairyman John Daly in 1911?

o Did you know the first commercial out-of-state sale of chrysanthemums was accomplished by Redwood City's Sadakusu Enomoto, when he shipped a carload to New Orleans for the All Saints Day celebration in 1915?

o Did you know that after World War II, Rod McLellan's Acres of Orchids in South San Francisco was the largest orchid grower in the world?

o Did you know that by 1900, William Corbitt's Crossways Ranch of Burlingame bred some of the best horses in the United States?

o Did you know that by 1909, San Mateo County farmers were among the first farmers in the state to grow Brussels sprouts for market?

o Did you know that by 1860, San Mateo County farmers were harvesting 100,000 bushels of oats a year, making them among the leading growers in California?

o Did you know that by 1860, San Mateo County farmers were harvesting even more wheat than oats at around 165,000 bushels a year?

o Did you know that until the 1870s, San Mateo County was a leading producer of barley until crop failures caused by unusual cold conditions hurt many growers?

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