December 26, 1966, turned out to be an important day for the California Rare Fruit Growers. On that day the Riley family was returning home from a trip to Mexico and stopped by Bonsall, California, to see a man named Thomson. After seeing the tropicals being grown by him in Vista, California, the Rileys continued on home to Santa Clara, California. But during the visit there was discussed the need for some sort of organization that would act as a clearing house for information on how to grow unusual plants. Since the Florida Rare Fruit Council filled the bill for Florida, it was thought California should benefit from a similar group. Much correspondence and nearly two years later, Riley and Thomson bit off more than they could comfortably chew and the California Rare Fruit Growers was born in November, 1968.
There was mutual agreement that the state should logically be divided into two parts, the southern part being the area from the Mexican border to Santa Barbara and the northern part on up to the Oregon border. This division corresponds roughly to the areas where tropicals may be more or less successfully grown in the south and where it is necessary to grow the hardier plants in the north. A yearbook would be published in Santa Clara by Riley, containing feature length articles and a newsletter by Thomson in Bonsall, with shorter articles and news of interest to members. This policy has been carried out with generally favorable reaction from our members. Back issues of our publications continue to be in demand from County Farm Advisors’ offices and libraries as well as cities and universities. A definite need is being met by providing information not available elsewhere or at best not readily accessible in an organized form. Many requests are received from other countries for information and publications as we become better known. For Southern California we are becoming a clearinghouse of information on unusual plants in general and rare fruits in particular.
Much of the credit for our reputation is due John M. Riley, an aerospace engineer at Lockheed, who has edited and published the first four yearbooks as well as contributing articles to all of them and the newsletters as well. The high standard of excellence maintained in this publication has been the chief factor in its acceptance by those interested in subtropical horticulture wherever they may be. In addition to his being an excellent editor, with all the time and energy involved, Riley is a well-known horticulturist in his own right. His years in Florida instilled in him a love of tropical plants and a desire to continue to grow them even after being transplanted to the considerably more hostile environment of Santa Clara. He has persevered in spite of frosty winters which caused considerable discouragement and today has a fine collection of the hardier rare fruits that can be grown there.
The California Rare Fruit Growers expanded to the point where it demanded more of his time than he could reasonably give and in mid-1973 Riley found it necessary to resign from his position as editor of the yearbook. It was with deep regret that his resignation was accepted. However, he is still actively conducting the Seed Fund, a task which also takes considerable time and correspondence, gathering seeds and distributing them to participating members.
The California Rare Fruit Growers gives Riley a hearty “Well done” and a vote of thanks for his dedication to our cause during the formative years. We are well aware that without him we would not be where we are today.
Our other founder, Paul H. Thomson, started his early life by being born in India, since that’s where his missionary parents were and he wanted to be near his mother at the time. He came to the United States in 1928 and lived in Lincoln, Nebraska. In January, 1938, he joined the United States Marine Corps but after serving 20 years with them he decided he didn’t care for it enough to make it a career so he got out. Since that time he has been actively engaged in plant propagation, doing grafting and budding commercially for nurseries and grove owners in southern California. He has worked extensively with Macadamia, Carob and Jojoba and continues to have an active interest in plants which have an economic potential and which offer a challenge to the grower to work out the horticultural problems involved. He is working with deciduous fruits on his home ground in Bonsall and with the more tender tropicals and subtropicals on his property in Vista. He is an organic gardener and was one of the first to be so certified by Organic Gardening and Farming Magazine.
Both founders have worked selflessly through the years in developing this organization and have been a constant source of inspiration to members. Their vast knowledge and ability have seen us through many a discouraging moment and they continue to be supportive. To both we say “Thank you and thank you again.”