When you think of Los Angeles, you don’t think of it as a farm town. However, at one point, it was the largest agricultural county in the United States. L.A. grew fruits and vegetables, produced poultry, and was one of the original wine countries.

Rachel Surls, co-author of the book, From Cows to Concrete: The Rise and Fall of Farming in Los Angeles, knows all about the history of farming in the City of Angels.

RELATED | Could the Future of Farming Be Urban?

“We could not believe how important farming was to the very history of Los Angeles,” said Surls. “In fact, Los Angeles was formed as a civilian farming village by the Spanish colonial government – this was specifically created to be a farming community that would grow grain for this new settlement.”

Over the years, farmers grew wheat, barley, and even hemp. The warm weather, with sunshine year round, made Southern California a great place to grow things. At one point, there was even a pineapple farm in Hollywood.

“What didn’t we have is the question,” said Surls.

Once the transcontinental railroad was built, many people came here to become farmers in the L.A. basin. Los Angeles was the hub, but Surls said Southern California had many different pockets for farming.

For instance, Mar Vista used to be popular for lima beans and the San Gabriel Valley was famous for having large amounts of citrus orchards.

The Gold Rush had an impact on farming here in Southern California, too. Large amounts of produce was exported from the harbor in San Pedro to San Francisco.

“The Gold Rush really spurred farming here in Southern California and Los Angeles in particular, because before that there hadn’t been a market, hardly anybody lived here,” Surls said. “So, once you had all those forty-niners and so many people going to Northern California, they were worried about something really important.”

The forty-niners knew if they ate fresh produce they wouldn’t get sick. So, the farmers in Los Angeles sent them fresh fruit, brandy and wine. Surls said they made a fortune off of it. The creation of the railroad also brought more opportunities to SoCal farmers.

“That railroad really shook things up because now farmers could get a beautiful head of celery they grew right here in Los Angeles in the winter time, all the way to someone’s plate in a fancy restaurant in Chicago or New York,” Surls said.

After World War II, in 1945, people started coming over here for different industries. There was land boom after land boom. The value of land kept increasing, while the value of land for farmers couldn’t keep up. It was hard for them to afford farms then. L.A. survived, it just turned into something else.

“Angelenos still love gardening, we love planting things, we love fresh food, we're crazy about things like farmers market,” she said.  “So, I do think that sort of culture of farming that we come from is integrated into some of those things that we still care about today.”

Gardening is popular throughout Los Angeles, but it is much different than farming. Gardening is something you do for yourself, whereas farming is producing products and distributing them for profit. Once you start to sell, you are a farmer.

There is still some agricultural history in Southern California. One farming community that Surls loves is in Compton, called Richland Farms. They never got subdivided out and have big oversized lots filled with produce and animals to raise.

Los Angeles is known for many things, but there are some interesting tidbits about farming few know about it.

“LA was once a silk worm farming capital. At one time the state thought that Los Angeles and Southern California could have a silk industry like France or China did,” Surls said.

However, it didn’t really pan out well. Many people raised silk worms and grew Mulberry plants for the worms to eat, but only produced one piece of silk. It ended up being made into a flag for our state capitol.

Let Inside the Issues know your thoughts and watch Monday through Friday at 8 and 11 p.m. on Spectrum News 1.