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Oxnard’s Sweet Relationship With The Sugar Beet

Sugar beets played a huge role in the Ventura County area that would later become known as the City of Oxnard. Here’s how it happened.

by Kat Merrick
Oxnard Sugar Beet Factory

This is a golden opportunity to secure by far the biggest and most important enterprise that has ever been offered to Ventura County, and dull indeed will be our citizens if all the conditions are not promptly and cheerfully complied with.

The Free Press Paper Ventura, circa late 1897

What was this opportunity they were so excited about for our area? Sugar Beets! Sugar beets would become the seeds of change in developing the territory near the Santa Clara River outside of Ventura. This area would later become known as the City of Oxnard.

The seed of a growing idea

In 1897, ranchers Albert Maulhardt and Johannes Borchard believed that sugar beets could be a profitable crop for the area. So they invited sugar mogul Henry Oxnard to come to the area for a meeting at which they shared their idea for building a factory to process the sugar beet crop. Oxnard laid an offer on the table which outlined plans to build a $2-million sugar factory with a capacity to process 2,000 tons of beets daily. In exchange, he asked our local farmers to dedicate 20,000 acres of their land to growing sugar beets over a five-year period.

Excited by the prospect and the agreement from our local farmers to grow the sugar beets, construction began on the factory right in the heart of our rich fields. Believing that the new plans for the future would be successful, even Southern Pacific Railroad got involved. In the spring of 1898, they built a railroad station right at factory site so that shipping the processed beets could be accomplished more efficiently. The Oxnard factory operated from August 19, 1899, until October 26, 1959.

oxnard sugar beets plant
Oxnard Sugar Beets Plant, circa late 1800s

Oxnard owes its birth to this then state-of-the-art, turn-of-the-century sugar-beet factory

The construction and operation of the new factory required a large labor force. The availability of jobs and easy access to the area because of the new railroad spur attracted Chinese, Japanese and Mexican workers from all over the country. So, with the rapid growth in population and commerce, it did not take long for a town to spring up near the factory.

Henry Oxnard intended to name the settlement after the Greek word for “sugar” (zachari) but, frustrated by bureaucracy, he named it after himself! The area continued to grow, fueled by the success of the sugar beet plant. Oxnard was now starting to take its shape as a city and, in 1903, the City of Oxnard was incorporated. Ironically, Henry Oxnard never actually lived in his namesake city,

Today’s Oxnard

Agriculture continues to be the major industry for Oxnard. The amazing fact that there still remains an acre of irrigated farmland in Ventura County for every acre of city is a tribute to our farmers and the area. The Sugar Beet is no longer a large crop for Oxnard as many of our local farmers have worked to diversify their crops and grow for demand.

According to the Farm Bureau of Ventura County, the current top ten crops for Ventura County are strawberries, raspberries, lemons, nursery stock, celery, tomatoes, avocados, cut flowers, peppers, and greens. Over the years, Oxnard has continued to grow and is now the largest city in Ventura County. With this growth, it has still held true to its rich heritage in farming and the farmers and laborers that contributed in the birth the city.

Information sources include: The City of Oxnard, the Los Angeles Times and the Farm Bureau of Ventura County

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