Santa Cruz County History - Executive Order 9066 and the Residents of Santa Cruz County

Agricultural Labor Shortage
by Rechs Ann Pedersen

"The tremendous drain upon farm labor by the war industries selective service and evacuation of Japanese and enemy aliens has created a critical problem in virtually all farming sections of California," said Dalton. [Herbert Dalton, USDA War Board chairman] (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian May 21, 1942. p.9)

Photo of Travers and Sakata Packing Shed, Watsonville
Travers and Sakata Packing Shed, Watsonville.
Photo courtesy of Bill Tao.

So many men away in military service resulted in shortages of workers and changes in the makeup of the labor force all over the nation. (Well-known is the movement of women into the labor force to continue the needed work done by men.) In Santa Cruz County, Executive Order 9066 brought additional labor shortages and concern for the production of food. [Please note: the information presented here is taken only from contemporary, local newspaper articles. It is not intended to be a complete study and may not present a complete picture of the situation--RAP]

Restricted Areas

January 30, 1942, Santa Cruz residents read that the U.S. Justice Department planned to remove enemy aliens from defense areas in the eight far Western states. The coastal area was declared prohibited.

February 2, 1942:

The federal alien restricted area ruling of Attorney General Francis Biddle brought wartime reality into the heart of Santa Cruz county yesterday when all the area west of state highway No. 1 (the Coast road and Watsonville highway) south of Laguna Creek to the Carmel river was declared a restricted zone.Thus the heart of the city of Santa Cruz was included in the restricted zone, with the Coast road running down Mission street then out Water street to Soquel avenue and out the Watsonville highway, the border of the restricted area. Several hundred aliens will be affected by the ruling according to a survey conducted by the Sentinel-News last night. (Santa Cruz Sentinel-News, [M] February 3, 1942. p.1)

Being restricted from the coastal areas meant that Italian fishermen could not go out to fish. Axis aliens who farmed the coastal lands could no longer work their fields. At first there was hope that something could be worked out so that food production could continue, but there were no exceptions.

February 3, 1942:

Hardest hit will be the Italian fishing colony at the wharf and the artichoke growers up the coast, the survey revealed. According to Donald Younger, over 3500 acres of artichokes and brussels sprouts are farmed by Italian-American families in the county. Younger estimated that about half of these farmers are aliens. Representatives of the Sprout Growers' association and local shippers did not know last night how many of the growers would be affected by the ruling, but stated that probably 75 per cent of the workers on the ranches are aliens. (Santa Cruz Sentinel-News, [M] February 3, 1942. p.1)

February 2, 1942:

Italian, Japanese and German aliens in Santa Cruz who may have harbored a hope that some disposition would come to exclude them from the evacuation order, had those hopes completely quashed Tuesday.. Locally it appeared Tuesday artichoke and brussels sprouts growers along the coast between Santa Cruz and Davenport, in whose field alien Italians are employed to quite an extent, and the fishing industry at the wharf will bear the brunt of evacuation...The growers definitely face a labor shortage, according to Louis Poletti, manager of the Davenport Producers Association, representing a large majority of the artichokes and sprouts growers. Most of the fields are in the restricted area he said, and aliens can not set foot within the designated limits. (S.C. Sentinel-News. February 2, 1942. [E] p.1 Full-Text)

February 2-3, 1942:

This resolution was in variance to a similar resolution adopted earlier this week by the Santa Cruz county economic conference which recommended that Japanese not be removed from coastal areas but instead be retained for agricultural work under close surveillance. The Santa Cruz group cited the shortage of farm labor as the reason for the recommendation. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. February 3, 1942. p.2 Full-Text)

February 5, 1942:

AS WE SEE IT [Editorial]
Production of food is of such major importance to our country that we feel confident the government will work out a system whereby evacuation of aliens from the banned farming areas will be accomplished without disrupting agricultural industry in the affected areas... (Santa Cruz Sentinel-News. February 5, 1942 [E] p.1Full-Text )

Public Proclamation No. 1 designated the western halves of California, Oregon, and Washington and the southern part of Arizona as a military area. The Proclamation warned that individuals might be excluded from this area in the future. "Voluntary" evacuation was recommended. Ultimately, only those of Japanese ancestry were evacuated, although the German and Italian aliens were still restricted from certain parts of the County.

March 18, 1942

"Naturally it is desirable that in areas where their work is essential to protect important acreages of growing crops, Japanese farmers be permitted to remain as long as reasonable. The county USDA War Board has been instructed to recommend the earliest possible date by which the evacuation might be effected without resulting in serious crop loss." [Herbert Dalton, Board chairman] (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. March 18, 1942. p.2.)

Public Proclamation No. 4

Public Proclamation No. 1 restricted access to certain parts of the county, but individuals were free to move where they chose outside the military area--"voluntary" evacuation. Public Proclamation no. 4 utimately applied only to those of Japanese ancestry and made evacuation mandatory. Many families hurried to leave before the new proclamation was official on March 27, 1942. Farmers did not have that option. They were required to stay and work their farms.To leave was considered sabotage.

March 27, 1942:

Approximately 200 Japanese families will remain in the Pajaro Valley until the official moving notice following the voluntary evacuation deadline at midnight Sunday... Japanese farms "look good this year with fine crops of berries, lettuce and garlic expected." Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. March 27, 1942. p.1.Full-Text

March 27, 1942:

Failure of Japanese and Japanese-Americans working agricultural land in the county to continue operations until the time they must evacuate will be considered sabotage...(S.C. Sentinel-News. March 27, 1942. [E] p. 1. Full-Text )

Farms owned by Japanese and Japanese Americans were let to other farmers.

March 27, 1942:

"More than 40 Japanese and Japanese-American farmers who must evacuate from this county have listed their farming operations with Frane [Myron C. Frane, farm security field agent for the Army's wartime civilian control administration service center in the county]. Less than half that number of qualified farmers wishing to take over operations have filed with his office. Japanese and Japanese-American land listed for sale or lease constitutes 342 acres of land, of which 242 acres are planted chiefly to strawberries, bushberries, garlic and seed crops. The farms range from one acre to 30 acres. A farm-to-farm canvass was conducted that revealed majority of the larger operators already have made satisfactory arrangements." (Santa Cruz Sentinel-News, [E] March 27, 1942, p. 1)

August 28, 1942:

The agricultural division of the Army's Wartime Civilian Control Administration today announced that 70 per cent of the farm land operated by west coast Japanese and Japanese Americans had been transferred to other operators.." (Santa Cruz Sentinel-News, [E] August 28, 1942. p. 9)

Continued shortages

Restrictions were progressively lifted for Italian and German aliens and they could return to work.

July 1, 1942:

Several thousand Italian and German farmhands and fruit picers will be made available for work in California fields and orchards under a new proclamation...[it] revoked an order prohibiting all German and Italian aliens from residing in or entering nearly 100 designated areas in the state. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. July 1, 1942. p.10)

Newspaper articles indicate that there was still an agricultural labor shortage. Just how the labor shortage was managed in the County is unclear. On the state level, Governor Olson spoke with the War Relocation authorities on the possibility of releasing interned Japanese for farm work in military zones. Olson repeated a previous statement that release of the Japanese seemed the only feasible solution for California's growing farm labor shortage. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. July 7, 1942. p.7) That Fall 10,000 evacuees were on leave from the camps, employed as seasonal workers. They are credited with saving the sugar beet crops in several states, but they did not work in California that year.2, 3

Various solutions

Using soldiers to fill the labor shortage was suggested and rejected.

August 25, 1942:

San Francisco (UP)--California's critical farm and cannery labor shortage took a turn for the worse Tuesday. Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt...turned down a request by California canners and growers that soldiers be released from duty to work in canneries and orchards...Agricultural authorities believed generally that Mexican laborers be[ing] imported would not arrive in time to save crops. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. September 9, 1942. p. 1)

In May of 1942, the United States and Mexico negotiated an agreement to help alleviate the wartime labor shortage. The Bracero Program, which lasted until 1964, arranged for Mexican citizens came into the United States to work on farms and railroads.1, 2

September 9, 1942:

Washington (UP)--The War Manpower Commission has approved a program for the immediate importation of 1500 Mexican farm workers to help harvest the California sugar beet crop. William Hopkins, regional WMC director for the Pacific coast, said an additional 150,000 local workers must be recruited to meet acute farm labor shortages in California. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. September 9, 1942. p. 7)

In the Fall of 1942, the editor of the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian called for volunteers to help with the harvest, indicating the seriousness of the problem.

September 16, 1942:

More than likely, heads of Watsonville business concerns soon will be asked to close their store for several hours a day so that their employees may help harvest this valley's apples and tomatoes.Experienced agriculturists here declare that the critical period in the farm labor situation will be reached in a week or 10 days. The pinch in the shortage of field and orchard pickers will be felt then. If there are not enough regular farm workers or volunteers ready to work, the employees of business houses must help save the crops. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. September 16, 1942. p.4)

Convicts were released and used in some areas of California.

September 17, 1942:

San Quentin (UP)--Plans for greater use of California's prisoners as emergency farmhands were disclosed Wednesday as a second group of 43 convicts and one guard left San Quentin to assist in harvesting crops...The group of 43 that left Wednesday will pick cucumbers in Sutter county. The first group of 43 was sent to San Joaquin river delta area..Two additional groups of 43 each will leave next Saturday and Monday to harvest sugar beets in San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties. Judge Pacht said 100 inmates of Folsom prison have been given conditional paroles and will be available for sugar beet harvesting in Yolo and Sacramento counties. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian September 17, 1942. p. 2)

The following article indicates that the Bracero Program had not gone well the previous Fall and that there was concern for the upcoming harvest. The solution proposed was, not to use evacuees, but to use Italian prisoners of war.

May 21, 1943:

But the farm labor problem is still unsolved, while the season speeds on toward harvesting time and farmers worry and wonder if this year the federal government will heed the warning and get promised Mexican labor here in time to save the crops - a project bungled last year...The Italian, it is argued, has not cared for this war, and certainly not for the part forced on him, from the beginning... He has a natural friendly feeling for Americans. He is assimilable, as the Jap can never be. And he, as well as the Jap, is a born farmer. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. May 21, 1943 p. 3 Full Text)

Fall 1943, Mexican workers were employed in the County. From the next article, it sounds as if Mexican workers continued to be employed here in the later War years as well.

October 1, 1943:

From various sources of late we've heard that a large number of Mexican nationals -- brought to this area to aid in harvesting record-breaking crops -- are getting tired of their work here and want to return home. No little alarm is felt in some circles about the condition because state agricultural leaders tell us that the Mexican nationals are sorely needed in California to help get in the 1943 Food for with them to make their stay in California more pleasant. (Watsonville Register Pajaronian. October 1, 1943. p.6)

November 20, 1945:

Ten Japanese - five at Santa Cruz and five at Aptos - are being employed on railroad track work to help relieve the acute shortage of section hands, the Southern Pacific Co. announced at Santa Cruz Tuesday. Loyalty of the workmen has been certified by the government, the announcement said. ...The manpower shortage is made critical at present by the repatriation of Mexican nationals who have been employed on the tracks during the war. Some 13,000 Mexican nationals were employed by Southern Pacific at one time for this work, but with expiration of their contracts, they are returning home at the rate of 1300 monthly. (Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. November 20, 1945. p 3.)


  1. McWilliams, Carey. North from Mexico. Greenwood Press, 1968 [c. 1948]. p. 265-266.
  2. Martinez, Manuel Luis. "Bracero Program." The Latino Encyclopedia. . Marshall Cavendish, 1995. Vol 1. pp. 193-194.
  3. United States Commission on Wartime Relocation. Personal Justice Denied. Civil Liberties Public Education Fund and University of Washington Pr., 1997. p. 181-182.
  4. Watsonville Register-Pajaronian September 1, 1942. p. 1

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