More than 150 preschool and elementary school children gathered at Heritage Park on March 18 to catch a glimpse of La Verne’s past at the seventh annual Spring Squeeze.
Beginning March 9 and ending March 19, mornings at the Weber Ranch portion of the park were reserved for children from local schools.
While attending, they came and learned the “ins and outs” of La Verne life in the 1800s, when the city was referred to as the “Heart of the Orange Empire.”
“What’s wonderful is most of them [the students] know nothing about life on a farm,” Robin Molina, president of the Heritage Foundation, said.
On this particular day, a full schedule of schools attending had volunteers gearing up for a busy morning of demonstrating what life would have been like if they had lived in 19th century La Verne.
The property is fully maintained by the Heritage Foundation.
Both board members and foundation volunteers were on hand to assist in the running of the event.
For the children, the day started out with a tractor ride through the orange grove followed by a chance to see how an orange picker would have done his job in the days when orange groves flourished in La Verne.
“All of the oranges don’t come from Albertson’s,” Betty Umland, a Heritage Foundation volunteer of more than 20 years, said as she showed the kids how the oranges were harvested.
Umland explained how orange-pickers would climb up a ladder against the tree, pick the orange, put it into their bag and then bring it back down to dump in their box.
They were then paid for each box that they turned in to the warehouse.
The next stop on the tour was the vegetable garden, which currently had its winter crop planted, and then to the smudgepots to show how they were used to keep the oranges from freezing.
“If they had frost, they’d put the smudgepots out in the grove,” Umland said.
However, it was eventually discovered that the oil used by the smudgepots was bad for the environment so they were replaced with wind machines that circulated warm air to achieve the same effect.
Students were then directed to the windmill where they got a chance to pump water for themselves.
Umland explained how in the 1800s, houses did not have running water like most people do today.
Instead, residents had to come to the windmill to get water for everything from bathing to cooking.
Then the students were finally able to get some hands-on experience, the part that Molina feels makes the event so special and exciting for children.
They were all taken to a station where they each got an orange, cleaned it, and hand squeezed it with a manual orange squeezer.
They were then able to drink their delicious product.
At the last station of the day, the children were able to take half of the rind of the orange they just squeezed and plant a flower in it to take home to share with their family.
They were instructed to take the flower, orange rind and all, and plant it in a pot or in the garden once they got home.
The rind would then feed their flower to keep it healthy.
After the tour the kids and chaperones could then purchase a bag and go pick their own oranges. Everyone seemed pleased with the way the event turned out.
“I think it’s great, I love it,” said Pat McKenzie, whose grandchildren were on the field trip.
“How often do the kids in California get to see something like this?”
Debbie Allison can be reached at email@example.com.