Saturday, June 12, 2010

San Tong Farms Asparagus and Builds a Dream

Auntie Soo-Yin writes of San Tong : "Father worked on the Van Nuys Ranch until the sun rolled down, then he drove at 3 am to the Produce Exchange-on L.A.s San Pedro Street -in order to market fresh asparagus, each bunch packed in crates stamped with our logo of "Universal No. 1"

San Tong was an inventive guy and he was always looking for ways to improve farming efficiency. One of his early inventions was what Soo -Yin called the iron grasshopper . It was a special John Deere tractor to help with harvesting asparagus crafted from parts rusting on the ranch after he had read issues of Field Mechanic.

From the newspaper article dated 3/31/1944 that accompanies the picture above , here is the copy detailing the asparagus farm holdings in the valley at the time . San Tong has the largest farm at 300 acres. His neighbor Sam Chung ( also known as Sam Chang) has 85 acres. Sam Chang's family story is well chronicled in Professor Haiming Liu's book , The Transnational History of a Chinese Family .

Here is some information about the use of Mexican nationals during the war years.


  1. It took 5 years for an asparagus shoot to mature from seedling to harvest and be ready for market. However, while attending UC Davis Brother Jack had a friend in the Agri Lab who had access to new seedlings that only took 3 years to mature. Jack purchased those seeds that became the "Universal No.1" brand for Jue Joe Asparagus. World War II helped San Tong's farm survive. The government needed asparagus to feed its soldiers abroad so it allowed braceros to enter the country temporarily as farm laborers and work at low wages. There were migrant camps located on Victory Blvd., in Reseda, and in Moorpark. Also,some camped in barns on the Jue Joe Ranch. Singer Ritchie Valens ("La Bamba and "Oh Donna") grew up on our ranch as his mother, Connie Valenzuela, and his stepfather, Ramon Navarro, worked in the packing house and fields. One day Ritchie threw a rock at a beehive and all the Mexicans ran for cover. San Tong had to shut down business for 3 days. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  2. The opening of harvest season was quite a spectacle on our ranch. Uniformed Marshals roared up with their paddy wagons, their arms swinging Billy clubs to round up workers who had overstayed their Visas. On first sight the workers flew from the Packinghouse and into irrigation ditches to hide in the fields. At the end of harvest, however, it was fun for everyone--we celebrated with a fiesta. There was a Mariachi band, dancing, a pinata, and plenty of food for all the workers and their families. Even the Sheriffs who moonlighted as security guards enjoyed it. And our honored guest was always the Mexican Consulate General and his wife. Auntie Soo-Yin.

  3. San Tong expanded the asparagus operation into the largest in the West. He shipped freight cars of asparagus to markets all across the USA. In New York, for example, John Nix & Co. was one of the largest whoesalers on the East Coast and was a steady buyer of asparagus from Jue Joe, then San Tong, and finally Jack. Three generations. One among many big supermarkets was Safeways. San Tong worked so hard day and night, seven days a week, to build up the business. He gave everything he had in order to build a dream. And it didn't go unnoticed. Pierce College asked San Tong to teach agriculture. So at night he taught his students and he loved it. Auntie Soo-Yin.