Firebaugh, CA is Jewel of the San Joaquin

firebaugh landscape

Whether visiting or living in this California destination, there are many things to see and do. Here are attractions, activities and events of interest:








Pictured above is Mercy Hot Springs in Firebaugh. You can't get more centered than Firebaugh, California, a city with around 6,000 residents in the center of California. Located in Fresno County, Firebaugh is northwest of Fresno off Highway 33. Many recognize it for the tank with name on it as you drive into town, but others hold a spark for endearing places such as Mercy Hot Springs with a comfortable, soothing vibe and huge, colorful skies.

Firebaugh was once a ferry crossing on the San Joaquin River, transporting prospectors heading for the California Gold Country in the Sierra mountain foothills. It's called the jewel, and certainly has a lot of history to tout as one of the oldest towns in the region. Farming in the Central Valley is a natural, and sums up what Firebaugh does well.

Close to 90% of the population is Hispanic in Firebaugh, and most work in the food packing industry. A shift in recent years from growing (which still occurs) to packing has helped the city maintain its economic base. Changes in water rights policies have created challenges for a city that has no more than 7 to 8 inches of rain annually. The lack of a predictable, abundant supply of water was met with a shift in types of crops grown, and diversification away from melons, once the primary crop, to fruits and other heartier products requiring less water. Additionally packing the produce from throughout the region has created a boon for the city and sustained it during the past decade.

On the east, the region is bounded by the north-flowing San Joaquin River, and its northwestern boundary is the Fresno-San Benito County line located high in the Coastal Range that separates the California Coast from the San Joaquin Valley. Small portions of the Firebaugh zip code are located in Merced County and in Madera County, though Firebaugh proper is in Fresno County. Altogether, the zip code boundary encloses about 443 square miles, of which 321 comprises irrigated cropland (205,440 acres). Because of its great size, Firebaugh is one of the largest irrigated farm communities in the entire United States.

Tomatek,owned by The Neil Jones Food Company of Vancouver, Washington, is located in Firebaugh, CA and is a state-of-the-art production facility that produces pouch packs and industrial tomato products. Old California Pouch Tomato Products, Earthpure Pouch Organic Tomato Products, Perfect Pouch Custom Sauce Blends, TomaTek Industrial Tomato & Sauce Ingredients are completed by Pacific Breeze Canned Pineapple, Mandarins, Peaches, Apricots, Fruit Cocktail, Pepperoncinis and Kalamata Olives which are imported from some of the best growing regions around the world. Tomatek is the largest employer in Firebaugh and estimates range up to 600 employees, according to city data.

In 2009Perez Packing Inc.,Firebaugh, Calif., and Crown Jewels Marketing & Distributing LLC, Fresno, Calif., formed a strategic alliance returened the marketing of the Firebaugh company's melons to its valley roots. Crown Jewels provides marketing for the locally grown cantaloupes and honeydews that are packed and placed in cold storage at the Firebaugh packinghouse. The company, which marked is over 70 years old grows 2,500 acres of melons in the Firebaugh area, producing about 2.2 million cartons of cantaloupes and about 300,000 cartons of honeydews. Harvesting of both melons begins annually about July 1, continuing through September. The partnership resurrected Perez Packing's King Crow label, a one-time fixture in California. California's lack of irrigation water will not be a problem for Perez Packing, according to company officials, who say the company's melon fields are located within water districts that have longstanding contracts and are expected to provide adequate supplies. Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A. Inc., Miami, Fla., marketed the Perez melons fir a decade. The Perez melons fill a summer gap for Crown Jewels.

Roll back 10 years in Firebaugh history when a study by Fund for Rural America delved into Firebaugh's farming and asked, "Where have all the farms gone?" A trend away from farming due to water rights issues caused the organization to do a case study as predictor for other such communities facing similar problems.

A series of major policy issues — 87% of the community, the Hispanic/Latino population dominates a small city in which non-Hispanic whites were the majority just a generation ago. Serious environmental problems associated with irrigated agriculture. Lacking adequate local supplies, west side agriculture depends upon imported water from the distant Sacramento Valley watershed. Natural flows that formerly flushed through the numerous channels of the Bay Delta are partly diverted to irrigate the west side as well as to provide supplemental municipal supplies for southern California. The entire future of irrigated farming in the region is now the subject of intense controversy as California seeks to find sustainable solutions to future state water needs.

As recently as 30 years ago, Firebaugh was known as a farmer's town in contrast to its neighbor Mendota seven and one-half miles to the south, which has long been known as a farm worker's town. Over the past two decades, this simplistic distinction has become meaningless.

First deliveries of surface irrigation water to the region through the newly completed Delta-Mendota Canal in August 1951 came the first annual Cantaloupe Roundup in Firebaugh. Held annually since that date, the festival celebrates the community's claim to fame as the cantaloupe production center of California.

It was the reliability of surface irrigation water deliveries that made it possible to grow melons in the Firebaugh region and ship the product throughout the entire U.S. In 1968, the newly constructed California Aqueduct, and its San Luis Unit, began delivering irrigation water to the region, as well as areas to the south. The San Joaquin Valley area under irrigation was greatly expanded.

Together with the Delta-Mendota Canal, these new facilities made it possible to irrigate virtually all of the west side valley floor. Subsequently, vegetable and fruit crops other than melons have become very important in the region, most notably tomatoes for processing, fresh market tomatoes, garlic and onions.

Today, more garlic is grown in the Firebaugh region than in all of Santa Clara County, home of the Gilroy Garlic Festival. In recent years, new plantings of tree fruit and almonds have sprung up, joining vast new plantings of wine grape vineyards.

As a result of the changes, the Firebaugh Cantaloupe Roundup was renamed the Firebaugh Harvest Festival in 1998, largely in response to the newly important commodities. Vegetables, tomatoes, garlic and onions, and asparagus also have been grown in the region.

In 1989, the TomaTek tomato processing plant came on line. Located just south of the main part of town, the facility was the first tomato processing plant to be built in Fresno County, an oddity since the county is, by a large margin, the leading grower of processing tomatoes in the state. Other post-harvest handling and processing facilities established in the Firebaugh region in recent years include: Del Monte Fresh Produce (1998) cooler shared with Perez (below) and office; Gargiulo, Inc. (1993) fresh tomato packer/shipper (first of its kind in the county); Gold Rush Produce Inc. (1992) cooler and office; Perez Packing Inc. (1993) cooler, office and shipping facility; Spencer Fruit Company (1993) cooler, office and shipping facility; Wall Street Farms Inc. (?) office and shipping facility; Westside Produce Inc. (1993) cooler. Other firms with significant facilities in the Firebaugh region include De Francesco & Sons Inc (1969) and Turlock Fruit Company. Another major packer/shipper active in the region is Lindemann Produce Inc., but its facilities are located in Los Banos, north of Firebaugh.

Historic roots: The city is named for Andrew D. Firebaugh, an area entrepreneur. During the Gold Rush, Firebaugh's most famous local enterprise was a ferry boat. It shuttled people across the San Joaquin River. He also built a toll road from Bell Station to Pacheco Pass. The toll road went along a route parallel to present-day State Route 152. Firebaugh was a station on the Butterfield Overland Stage.

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