California Cooperative Canneries

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X Ray, Suncarest, Dew Taste, Calamade, Cock o' the Walk.

Santa Clara Valley Growers Association

Tri-Valley Packing
California Cooperative Canneries, San Jose, 1926.[1]

California Cooperative Canneries was a chain of canneries owned by different growers organizations founded in 1919. Although the cannery was declared as grower-owned (Santa Clara Valley Growers Association for San Jose, Stanislaus Growers Association for Modesto, etc), the company was vilified as a front for the Armour & Co. meat-packing company, as part of the meat packing company's attempt to expand once into fruits and vegetables. California Cooperative Canneries had a ten year contract to sell its full production to Armour[2]. Armour argued that the setup would give farmers more flexibility and profits, but others saw it as an attempt by the meat-packers to dominate another area of food production.

Advertisement from Feb. 11, 1920 Modesto Evening News requesting subscribers for the new Cooperative cannery at Visalia.

Armour's connection with California Co-operative Canneries spurred passion from both sides. Independent canners and some other co-operative associations spoke out strongly against Armour. During the 1922 attempt to reverse the consent decree, Elmer Chase spoke strongly for independent canners against Armour's involvement. However, the company also appeared to get support from other co-operative associations, including local cherry growers and the California Prune and Apricot Growers.

One opponent in particular, Aaron Sapiro, lawyer for the Fruit Growers of California, filed a complaint against the company in 1919 claiming unfair competition, and demanding Armour be divorced from California Co-operative Canneries[3]. Sapiro was counsel for Sunsweet and described in the New York World as "the genius of cooperative marketing". He certainly became an opponent of the Cooperative Cannery when its supporters attempted to get him and Sunsweet manager Coykendall tossed out for their unfair competition suit.

Strangely, Fruit Growers of California was claimed to be the fresh-fruit auxiliary of the California Prune and Apricot Growers[4].

A history of Tri-Valley Growers claims the company was started when it bought the "fruit and vegetable packing plants of the Armour Packing Company in Visalia, Modesto, and San Jose, CA in 1931[5].


Location Plant # Years Address Details
Hemet North Harvard Ave., north of Devonshire[6]. Former Hemet Cooperative Cannery? Buildings apparently still exist.
Hollister 1924-1925 Perhaps related to the San Benito County Canning Company? Managed by Sam Cava. Only ever mentioned in Oakland Tribune about freezes in 1924[7] and canning Sacramento fruit in 1925.
Isleton 1926-1930[8] East of Isleton[9] Probably asparagus. Improved in 1930[10]. Cannery was purchased from the [Delta Packing Company] in 1926; Armour and Company took over the cannery and sales contracts in 1931[11].
Modesto Plant #5[12] 1920-1931 14th and D Streets[13] Plant in operation by mid-July 1920[14] Built with Stanislaus Growers Association. Site appears to be the current Stanislaus Food Products tomato cannery.
Sacramento 1928-1930 North B and 7th Street Tomato cannery. Shut down in 1930, reopened by land owners as Bercut-Richards Packing Co.[15]
San Francisco 1922 Cunard Building, 503 Market Street Main office moved to San Francisco from San Jose in 1922[16].
San Jose Plant #1, Plant #2 1920-1931 Tenth and Taylor Built with Santa Clara Valley Growers Association.
Tulare 1920 Bought from California Italian Products Company in July 1919[17]. Plant inactive in 1921, fruit instead going to Visalia[18].
Visalia 1919-1931 Built with the Visalia Growers' Association. Initially peach growers, but olive growers included in 1920 because of a "disastrous" market[19] Mr. Lambert was manager in 1921[20].
Visalia 1919 106 Court Street 106 North Court St.[21] Office.

Armour and California Co-operative Canneries

Armour's contract with California Cooperative Canneries had effect between May 1919 and January 1929. It declared that the cannery would sell all canned fruit required by Armour, and sell at the current California Packing Corporation's prices unless such a price would be less than the cost of production. The cannery could sell any fruit beyond Armour's needs as of January 1, and could also sell any canned fruit that Armour did not use. Armour also held a mortgage on one of California Cooperative Cannery's buildings, initially $250,000 but reduced to $200,000 by 1922.

The movement sparked an epic anti-trust battle between the US Government and Armour and Swift, leading to a consent decree against the meat-packers in 1920; Armour relinquished ties with the company soon after. At least one other co-operative - the Fruit Growers of California - filed a complaint against Armour and California Co-operative Canneries soon after the FTC announced its own complaint[22]. Their lawyer, Aaron Sapiro, complained that the collusion damaged potential relationships between growers and other co-operative organizations[23]. The packers backed down in early 1920 and signed a consent decree, then divested themselves of many businesses. Their connection with California Co-operative Canneries continued only with a mortgage they held on the plant, but that was enough for competitors to still brand the cannery as "Armour-controlled." Another writer claimed the company was "heavily in debt to Armour" even after the consent decree[24].

California Co-operative Canneries disliked the consent decree and loss of their biggest customer, and tried to reverse it, both in hearings in the Senate in 1922, and via an appeal that agreed that they could intervene in the case[25]. The cannery argued they had a vital interest in the case because the consent decree lost them their contracted customer responsible for 52% of their entire output[26]. In April 1925, the Supreme Court for the District of Columbia suspended the complete decree altogether, and the appeals court upheld the ruling[27]. When the case finally reached the Supreme Court in 1929, the Supreme Court refused to change the consent decree[28].

The consent decree was suspended from 1925 to 1929; the Supreme Court ruled anti-trust action was appropriate[29].

In 1926, when the company was required to get a license from the California State Board of Health, the company listed its two canneries as Modesto and San Jose[30]. By 1928, California Cooperative Canneries were operating ten plans "located from Riverside County to Sacramento County"[31].

Eventually, they were allowed to keep the business[32]. Even then, the canneries only survived a few more years, being sold to Tri-Valley Packing in 1932 as demand for canned fruit plummeted in the depression[33]. The Sacramento plant closed it doors completely[34].

In 1920, the president was S. E. Johnson, with Albert Jaentze as secretary[35]. The company's manager was Vernon Campbell in 1921; he shows up in many press quotes during the early founding of the company. Floyd Bohnett, an enthusiastic member in 1922[36], also appeared in the press.

A 1922 Canners Directory shows sites in San Jose and Modesto, with offices in Cunard Building in San Francisco[37]. San Jose's plant was one of the biggest canneries in the county in 1922; a 1922 history noted "There are forty canning factories in the county. One of these, the Co-operative plant, is the largest in the world. In 1921 it absorbed 30,000 tons of fruit and employed nearly 1,000 people. In the busy season of that year the combined county payroll reached over two million dollars."

California Co-Operative Canneries in San Jose

There were rumors that the canneries were to be sold to Bisceglia Brothers, with the new company continuing to sell to Armour[38] Bisceglia Brothers will continue contracts with Armour; Vernon Campbell declared these as "without basis in fact"[39].

California Co-Operative Canneries in Modesto

Even with the anti-trust ruling, the company still expanded to Modesto by the summer of 1920, requesting subscriptions for the plant in March 1920[40].

California Co-operative Producers

California Co-operative Producers was a related company involved with shipping fruit. The company was founded in 1926 by Vernon campbell and Mr. Johnson, President of the Union Construction Company, to build a terminal for shipping agricultural products. They engaged a promotional firm to encourage growers to ship through them. The company apparently had problems paying off its debts by 1930, and defaulted on agreements with growers as well[41]


  1. Pacific Service Magazine, October 1926.
  2. In Packers' Consent Decree: Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, United States Senate, Sixty-Seventh Congress, Second Session, Pursuant to Senate Resolution 211, to Investigate Matters Concerning the Consent Decree Entered in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia in the Case of the United States of America, Plaintiff, V. Swift & Co. Et Al., Defendants. U. S. Senate, March 23 and April 21, 1922. Contract appears in the hearing transcript
  3. After California Products. August 23, 1919 Berkeley Daily Gazette.
  4. Eugene T. Sawyers, History of Santa Clara County. Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, 1922. "The Fruit Growers of California Association, Inc., was organized in 1919 and is a sort of detached auxiliary of the California Prune and Apricot Growers, Inc. It handles green fruit only and sells to canners and ships to Eastern buyers. It does for the green fruit what the dried fruit operators do for dried fruit."
  5. Tri-Valley Packing Association:]. "Tri Valley Packing Association (TVPA) was founded in 1932 by George Pfarr. A peach farmer, Pfarr was shaken by the plummeting prices of his key crop during the Great Depression and the devastation it wrought on the agricultural industry. (The price for yellow clingstone peaches dropped from $80 a ton to $6.50 a ton between 1929 and 1932). Pfarr's goal was to enable individual farmers like himself to withstand the vicissitudes of the market. If fruit and vegetable growers were able to band together and cooperate in the sale and marketing of their products, they could better protect themselves from the bust and boom cycles of the commodities market, command more favorable prices from suppliers, and access a greater pool of resources. As his first step towards making his ideal a reality, Pfarr purchased the fruit and vegetable canning plants of the Armour Packing Company in Visalia, Modesto, and San Jose, California, in 1931. After incorporating TVPA, Pfarr became general manager of the San Jose facility. To ensure harmony among the grower-members, all products were included in one pool--instead of operating separate pools for each commodity. After overhead costs were paid at the end of production, the net income was divided among all pool members."
  6. Packing Houses of Southern California.
  7. "Frost Hits Tomato Crop of San Benito". In October 15, 1924 Oakland Tribune. The first frost in San Benito county this fall worked havoc among the tomato crop yet unpicked, but no individual heavy losses were suffered, according to Sam J. Cava, superintendent of the California Cooperative Canneries branch here."
  8. California Department of Water Resources, "Class I Archeological Survey, North Delta Program, Sacramento and San Joaquin Counties, California". 1994.
  9. Inventory of the Department of Public Works, Department of Highways, District X Records. "11 photographs (1928) of canneries located in the Isleton area. Included are the Bayside, California Cooperative Canneries located to the east of Isleton, and Libby Cannery located to the west of Isleton. Various street photographs of Isleton with cars, houses, and stores in background are included."
  10. Isleton Cannery Repairs. In December 21, 1929 Chicago Packer.
  11. "Packers May Start Canning Operations". In January 21, 1931 Berkeley Daily Gazette.
  12. Photo, Employees, California Co-operative Canneries Plant #5, Modesto. Robert Bowdidge collection.
  13. Break Ground on New Cannery Here April 1: March 15, 1920 Modesto Evening News. "Ground will be broken about April 1 on the Stanislaus Growers Assocation plant, a unit of the California Co-operative Canneries, at Fourteenth and D Streets, Modesto, the ten-acre site that has been chosen, according to Walter Baird of the Modesto Terminal company."
  14. Short Checks Cause Trouble in Co-Operative Cannery. August 5, 1920 Modesto Evening News. "John Elliot of San Jose was installed as superintendent at the plant yesterday, displacing F. W. Hoskins, who had charge since the cannery began operations nearly two weeks ago."
  15. Township Nine in the River District: History. "In Sacramento, the Bercut bothers owned the American River Ranch land and leased it to the California Cooperative Producers Company, a tomato cannery built on the north end of the property in 1928. The property at this time included an area of 169 acres that was bordered approximately by North B, 7th and 5th Streets, and the American River. Thomas H. Richards Sr. bought out the cannery business in 1931 and together with the Bercuts, who owned the land, formed the Bercut-Richards Packing Company. ".
  16. California Cooperative Canneries in San Francisco. July 1, 1922 California Cultivator and Livestock and Dairy Journal. The article mentions the organization has canneries in San Jose, Modesto, Visalia, and Tulare.
  17. July 1919 Western Canner and Packer. "Announcement is made of the purchase by California Co-operative Canneries of the plant of the California Italian Products Company. This cannery, which in the past has been confined to packing tomatoes, is to be enlarged for handling all classes of canned products, especially peaches and apricots." A later comment in the same column mentions that although California Italian Products sold their plant for the apricot and peach season, they intended to continue packing tomatoes.
  18. Horticultural Jottings, July 30 1921 Pacific Rural Press. "The Tulare branch of California Cooperative Canneries will probably not operate this season, the peaches from that section going to the Visalia branch, according to Manager Lambert of the latter house."
  19. California Brief News Items: November 6, 1920 Mariposa Gazette. "As a means of avoiding disastrous effects of this year's olive market, the Visalia plant of the California Cooperative Canneries will be operated jointly by the peach and olive growers of the county. An investment of $40,000 for equipment to manufacture olive oil will be expended."
  20. Horticultural Jottings, July 30 1921 Pacific Rural Press. "The Tulare branch of California Cooperative Canneries will probably not operate this season, the peaches from that section going to the Visalia branch, according to Manager Lambert of the latter house."
  21. July 1919 Western Canner and Packer
  22. Whole Thing is Mere Myth Says S. F. Attorney. August 26, 1919 San Jose Evening News.
  23. Remove Sapiro, Co-operative Men Demand. December 4, 1919 San Jose Evening News. Adherents of both sides clashed at a meeting of the California Prune and Apricot Growers association.
  24. Investigation of Concentration of Economic Power. Monograph #16. For Temporary National Economic Committee, Congress of the United States, 1940.
  25. Court Ruling May Reopen Big Five Litigation. June 2, 1924 Prescott Evening Courier]. "Reversing the lower court's decision, the court of appeals upheld the right of the California Co-operative Canneries company to intervene in the case."
  26. Intervenes in Packer Case. June 3, 1924 Spokane Spokesman-Review.
  27. "Appeal in Packers Consent Case Denied in Washington By District Court Decision". In March 4, 1926 Modesto, News Herald.
  28. Canneries Lose Noted Packer Consent Case. May 20, 1929 San Jose Evening News.
  29. Thomas C. Blaisdell, An Experiment in the Control of Business. 2008, Lawbook Exchange Ltd. p. 202. Originally published by Columbia University Press in 1932.
  30. "Many Canneries Receive Licenses". In January 23, 1926 California State Board of Health Weekly Bulletin.
  31. "Solution of Peach Problem is Sought: Governor's Committee Meets With Canners and Co-operative Growers' Chief in S.F.". In July 11, 1928 Modesto-News Herald. Paper lists Campbell as "manager of two co-operative canning concerns, the California Co-operative Canneries and the California Cooperative Producers.
  32. May 20, 1929 Bakersfield Californian.
  33. Mario T. Garcia, "The Chicano Movement: Perspectives from the 20th Century". Rutledge, 2014. "In Sacramento, the first industry to be affected by the economic crisis was the seasonal canning industry. Indeed as early as September 1930, 153 of the California Cooperative Producers Canning Company - a Sacramento company - were laid off without pay when demand plunged for canned goods."
  34. Steven M. Avella, "Sacramento and the Catholic Church: Shaping a Capital City". University of Nevada Press, 2008. "But almost overnight, the city became painfully aware of bad times when the huge California Co-operative Producers Canning Company closed its doors in September 1930, at the height of the canning season, leaving its employees without wages."
  35. California Co-Operative Canneries: California Food Products directory. 1920, A. Marks, San Francisco.
  36. Floyd Bohnett biography.
  37. 1922 Cannery's Directory
  38. January 7, 1920 Evening News
  39. Co-Operative Canners Plant 'Not For Sale'. November 6, 1919 San Jose Evening News.
  40. California Cooperative Canneries. March 13, 1920 Pacific Rural Press. $117,000 in subscriptions were reached for the Modesto plant, with 2,000 tons of fruit possible.
  41. "Bliss v. California Cooperative Producers, 30 Cal.2d 240", Sac. No. 5729, decided June 3, 1947. Case pitted early investors against the company founders because of failure to make payments in 1928.