When one thinks of Oxnard, the first image that comes to mind probably isn’t sugar beets. That might change after reading Jeffrey Wayne Maulhardt’s Oxnard Sugar Beets: Ventura County’s Lost Cash Crop.
Maulhardt, a fifth-generation descendant of prominent Ventura County families discussed in the book, has had a decades-long love affair with history. He taught American history for over 30 years before retiring, starting an insurance business, and publishing several books.
“I was the one in my family that showed an interest, that family members started giving me old pictures and deeds and all that. Anyway, I became a teacher. I was more active in collecting that stuff. Just to try and connect it with my local history and my classes,” he said.
Maulhardt’s writing has certainly connected with the community. In an email he related that his work has led to the development of the Oxnard Historic Farm Park that seeks to publish historical biographies and preserve local history and buildings. He explained that some readings from his youth served as inspiration for him to dig deeper into the story of the agricultural industry.
“When I was young, every now and then they’d have an article about the history of Oxnard. They’d always mention Maulhardt, who brought the Oxnard brothers here to build a sugar factory, and so that was always the clue to look up more information to find out where the connection was,” he said.
One thing that immediately jumps out at the reader is the large collection of historical pictures assembled in the book. They are but one interesting feature of his thorough research. He explained that he has built upon a reservoir of knowledge over time, and this allowed him to add many stories to the book, which is divided into several chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of the history of the industry. Although there is quite a bit of focus on prominent families, Maulhardt didn’t forget to mention the workers in his narrative.
“Once they introduced the sugar beets, then the whole industry changed. They started importing workers to come here and work in the fields because you didn’t have enough workers available,” he said. He went on to explain that many of these workers, including those of Mexican, Portuguese and Japanese descent, stayed and made their lives in the community.
This interesting if somewhat niche history can rightly be considered a good example of microhistory. While a bit more academic than most popular history books, those interested in the history of the county will surely want copies in their libraries.
Oxnard Sugar Beets: Ventura County’s Lost Cash Crop is available at Arcadia Publishing (843-853-2070 or www.arcadiapublishing.com), the Oxnard Historic Farm Park (844-9877 or www.oxnardfarmpark.org) and the California Welcome Center at The Collection at Riverpark (988-0717, 2786 Seaglass Way, Oxnard). Jeffrey Wayne Maulhardt will give a slideshow and sign books on Saturday, Jan. 21, 3 p.m. at the Oxnard Public Library, 251 S. A St. For more information, call 385-7500.