River Garden Farms has a rich history that dates back to the 19th century.
The land that would become the core of River Garden Farms was first claimed by Manuel Jimeno, who came to California after Mexico gained its independence in 1821. “Rancho Jimeno”, granted on November 2, 1844, was comprised of 49,000 acres along the west bank of the Sacramento River. Jimeno sold the rancho three years later to fund his return to his native land, and the land was subsequently subdivided and sold yet again.
Between 1860 and 1885, 9,227 of those acres had been acquired by Charles Reed, one of the founders of the town of Knights Landing, and he successfully raised grain and livestock here. When he unfortunately lost the land to his bank to repay debt arising from a poor investment, it was deeded to its parting president, James Fair, as part of a severance package of sorts. Thus, the Reed Ranch became the Fair Ranch. The Fair Ranch was expanded to include one of the finest horse ranches in the state, and the property was extended by several hundred acres to the south. After the death of James Fair in 1894, and the subsequent death of his son Charley in 1902, the ranch was inherited by Charley’s sisters, who had seemingly no interest in the ranch. In 1907 they sold off the livestock and implements, and in 1908 they sold the Fair Ranch itself to the Sacramento River Farms Company.
River Garden Farms Company was founded in 1913, with the primary intent to purchase the Fair Ranch from the Sacramento River Farms Company. It was founded by Dr. E.L. Dow, who had just two years earlier formed the Yolo Land Company to purchase almost 14,000 acres of what was originally part of Jimeno Ranch. The two companies were run separately, though they often shared interests, problems, and even key players. After its purchase, the Fair Ranch was restored and expanded with the purchase of more acreage. In 1916, the two companies were merged and retained the name River Garden Farms Company, as it was most familiar to the public. The Yolo Land Company was officially dissolved in early 1917. The consolidated farm was at that point nearly 35,000 acres large.
An early label for Bartlett Pears.
River Garden Farms expanded its crops from the rice, wheat, barley, hay, beans, corn, and cordwood it was already growing to include orchards. These orchards included prunes, pears, and peaches. It was also believed at that time that livestock were essential to a balanced farm operation, so horses, beef cattle, sheep, hogs, dairy cattle, turkeys, and chickens were brought in. The farm also expanded on its equipment, labor force, buildings, and irrigation.
Over the next few decades River Garden Farms experienced successful highs and unforeseeable lows. Historical events such as the stock market crash, the Great Depression, drought, and two world wars certainly made unfavorable impacts on the prices of agricultural products. The farm was able to survive during the lean years by making cuts, taking out loans, selling acreage, leasing out some of the land, and funding from the shareholders’ own personal funds. By the early 1960’s, it was decided that what was left of River Garden Farms would be sold.
In 1964, River Garden Farms was purchased by the three-way partnership of K.S. Adams, Jr., Frank B. Waters, and Curtis K. Canter. They were attracted to the land and its produce and saw its potential to be a thriving farm once again. They were confident that the Central Valley of California was productive enough to feed the world. In 1969 the partnership was reduced to two when Curtis Canter purchased Frank Waters’ share. In 1977 the remaining partners’ shares were contributed to their respective family-owned corporations: KSA Industries and Canterbury Farms. This partnership still owns River Garden Farms today, and both partners are active in all facets of River Garden Farms’ operations. Canterbury Farms is represented by Curtis Canter’s son Les Canter, serving as President, and daughter Kendal Canter-Perryman, serving as Vice President. KSA Industries is represented by Randy Scofield, serving as President, and Barclay Adams, K.S. Adams Jr.’s grandson, serving as the Executive to the President.
In the near 50-plus years under this new ownership, the farm has seen an incredible turn-around. This success can be attributed to stability and consistent direction by the partners and general managers, and a staff made up of dedicated and hard-working people, many of whom have spent their entire professional careers and raised their families at River Garden Farms. River Garden Farms has been on the leading edge of the use of technology and innovation in land preparation, seed varieties, growing, irrigating, cultivating, processing, storage, and marketing of agricultural products.
– Condensed from “River Garden Farms” by Shipley Walters and T.H. Riggs