The Organization

By Christopher Zoukis

The next year, 1909, while attending the state fruit growers convention in Watsonville, California, J.P. Dargitz became so disgusted with his farming brethren’s indecisiveness that he decided it was time for them to hear a hell-fire and damnation sermon on the topic.  So he rose to his feet and gave them the gospel according to J.P. Dargitz.  He blasted them, telling them they’d better wake up to the reality of the situation. 

He finished his sermon by telling them that “as long as the imported almonds are the largest portion of the almond supply, the imported nuts will fix the price, which will be the price of foreign almonds, including the duty, less freight from California to New York.  This will determine the price of California almonds.  If the crop is small, then the fixed price means little profit, because we don’t get the fixed price.  For the buyers put the price to us as much below the fixed price as possible.  The goal of the buyers is not to buy low and sell high.  It’s not that simple.  The ultimate goal of the buyers is to undersell the competing buyers when they sell to the jobbers.  Image courtesy

“The only way to defeat the process is for us to work together.  Then and only then we won’t lose money.  As it stands right now, the local associations of growers are actually conspiring against themselves, because they’re trying to undersell each other.  That’s just what the buyers want.  For it means that everybody loses money, except the buyers.

“Local associations do the best they can and they are a starting point.  But the real need is for a central marketing organization.”

J.P. Dargitz sat down and looked around.  All his brethren were nodding in agreement, but none of them were ready to take the next step.  It was as if they were paralyzed.  J.P. Dargitz snorted in disgust. 

On his way back home, J.P. realized that he had finally found a challenge big enough for him focus all his energy on.  If Moses could lead the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt to the promised land, then he could lead the hostage growers of California into financial freedom.  By the time he reached Acampo, he had made up his mind to keep preaching his message.  Every where he went, to each grower he met, J.P. Dargitz exhorted his listeners.  Chaos in the industry, along with low prices they were receiving for their crops opened the ears of his fellow growers.  The gospel message of J.P. Dargitz made many proselytes. 

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J.P. Dargitz Goes to California

By Christopher Zoukis

In 1896, J.P. could no longer resist the siren call of California, which was believed to be a land flowing “with milk and honey” and vast opportunity.  California was a place where men of vision and ability could make a name for themselves – and a fortune, too.  J.P moved to California, where he put all his talents to work.  He taught school, practiced medicine and preached the Gospel.  Eventually he became the pastor of a small church in Lakeport, California.  J.P.’s church was affiliated with the Church of Christ. 

Seeing an opportunity, J.P decided to seize it with both hands.  It was 1904, and the Church of Christ was establishing colonies in parts of the United States.  These colonies were religious communities, where like-minded believers could live and work and play, all while keeping the sinful ways of the rest of humanity at arm’s length.  They could live in the world yet not be a part of the world. 

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J.P. Dargitz

By Christopher Zoukis

Some people called J.P. Dargitz a power broker.  Others, who weren’t quite so impressed, called him an influence peddler.  Still others, those who had been outsmarted by him, called J.P. Dargitz everything from a manipulator to a swindler.  One thing was for sure, though, J.P. Dargitz got things done.  The greater the challenge, the more J.P. liked it.  As soon as the goal was attained, he lost interest and moved on to newer challenges.  Image courtesy

J.P. Dargitz hailed from Mansfield, Ohio, where he entered the world on September 8, 1859.  He attended public school in Asland, Ohio.  When he was 11-years old, his parents moved the family to Clarence, Iowa.  After graduating from high school, J.P. was offered the position of schoolteacher in Union County, Iowa.  The Union County School Board wanted the best teacher available and, impressed not only by J.P.’s academic record but also by his charismatic personality, they approached him on the very day of his graduation.  For five years, J.P. taught school.  Then, overcome by the urge to go somewhere else and do something new and different, J.P. quit and left.  He got a job as an agent of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, where he soon advanced to the position of traveling auditor.  Being an auditor was interesting for a while, but J.P. longed for some formidable task that would focus his talents.  Railroad auditors did the same thing over and over again.  J.P. wanted a grand adventure to give his life meaning and pizzazz. 

Like Solomon, he thought perhaps learning would make him happy.  So J.P. left the CB&Q and moved to Chicago – the windy city, where he studied medicine at the Chicago Homeopathic Medical College.  In 1889, at the age of 30, J.P. Dargitz graduated medical college at the top of his class.  He was now J.P. Dargitz, M.D. 

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Augustus T. Hatch

By Christopher Zoukis

Around 1850, a grower named Felix Gillet bought a new variety of cultivated almond seedlings from the William Prince Nursery in New York.  They were called Languedoc, because they came from a region in France of the same name.  Gillet took the cultivars back home to Nevada City, California, where he planted them in his orchards.  Within a few years, Languedoc-derived trees were being cultivated and sold throughout the state.  Results differed without any apparent rhyme or reason.  One grower would have a good crop, while his neighbor would lose most of his crop to frost or disease.  Discouraged, many growers threw in the towel and switched to other crops that were more reliable. 

One grower who didn’t give up was Augustus T. Hatch, who owned 800 acres of almond trees in Solano County, California.  Hatch kept experimenting, grafting seedlings to different types of rootstock.  He tried apricot roots, plum roots, peach roots, almond roots and almond-peach hybrid roots.  In 1879, Hatch planted over 2000 seedlings.  Two-hundred of which he could not graft because there was not enough rootstock available.  Ever the innovator, Hatch decided to take four different varieties – which he called Nonpariel, IXL, Ne Plus Ultra, and La Prima – and plant them together.  The La Prima variety proved to be insufficient.  But the other three varieties, when planted together, were resilient and very productive.  Hatch’s discovery changed the face of the almond industry forever.  Nonpariels became the leading almond in the world.         

But before the California almond growers became a powerful industry, they experienced some initial growing pains.  For the growers knew how to produce almonds, but they didn’t know anything about marketing or selling almonds.  Each grower would harvest his crop and then go looking for someone to buy it.  The buyers were speculators who had lots of information at their fingertips, while the growers had none.  Buyers knew the volume of almonds available from foreign countries, whether it was a good crop or not, and what the demand for almonds was.  Which meant they knew what the fair market price was.  The growers had no idea what they should be getting for their crops.  So the buyers undercut them.  Which meant the growers barely made enough profit to stay in business.  Image courtesy

A few of the growers realized that if they wanted to survive, they needed to get organized.  The first group to do so was in Davisville, California, where, in 1897, seventy-one growers formed what they called the Davisville Almond Growers Association (DAGA).  The goals of this group were many and varied, but the primary objective was not unlike that of modern unions.  By banding together they hoped to make more money for their crops.  DAGA gathered information about the status of the state’s almond crop.  How many tons were expected to be harvested, and of what quality.  They originated efficient methods to store and ship the association’s almonds, and introduced inspection guidelines and marketing campaigns.  Initially, their efforts were rudimentary, but over time improvements were made rapidly. 

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Father Serra Goes to California

Image courtesy freerepublic.comBy Christopher Zoukis

Almonds were introduced to America by Miquel Josep Serra iFerrer, who was born in Majorca, Spain.  When he finally arrived in California, he was Fray Junipero Serra, a priest in the Order of St. Francis.  He came to California to administer the missions on the Baja California Peninsula.  This system of missions had been founded by the Jesuits, who, because of their political intrigues, had just been forcibly kicked out of “New Spain” by King Carlos III. 

Father Serra brought along a bag of almond plantings, which he planted and attempted to grow.  His attempts failed, because the damp coastal fogs and high humidity of the area were not favorable to almond cultivation. 

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Almonds and Mysticism

By Christopher Zoukis

When archaeologists uncovered Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were both destroyed by the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., they found carbonized almonds.  This discovery indicated that almonds were cultivated in Italy prior to the first century. 

By 716 A.D., almonds were being cultivated in Northern Europe, for they are named in the charter granted to a monastery in Normandy by Chilperic II, who was the King of France.  And in 812, Charlemagne gave orders stipulating almond trees were to be planted on his imperial farms.  By the 14th century, almonds were being farmed on the Greek Islands.  Excess production was traded throughout Europe.  So valuable were almonds as a commodity they were taxed by the Knights Templar in 1411.  Image courtesy

Probably introduced by the Romans, almonds became an important food staple in England.  The chefs of King Richard III compiled a cookbook called the Forme of Cury, which provided recipes for “Crème of Almand, Grewel of Almand, and Cawdel of Almand Mylke.”  The price for a pound of almonds in 14th century England was 2 pence for a pound.

The recipe for “Crème of Almand” was as follows:

“Take Almand blached, grynde hem and drawe hem up thykke, set hem oue the fyre & boile hem.  Set hem adou and spryng hem with Vyneg, cast hem abrode uppon a cloth and cast uppoa hem sug.  Whan it is colde gadre it togydre and lshe it in dyssh.”

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Origins of a Nut

By Christopher Zoukis

There are two primary types of almonds:  sweet almonds and bitter almonds.  Sweet almonds are the nuts people like to eat, appearing in salads, cereals and candy bars.  Bitter almonds are grown for their oil, which is used as a flavoring and as a base in cosmetic products.  Bitter almonds, as the name suggests, are bitter in taste.  This is the result of amygdalin, which is a glycoside that breaks down to form prussic acid.  When bitter almonds are processed for their oil, the prussic acid or cyanide is removed so the oil can be used for flavoring.  Image courtesy

No one knows for sure where almonds originated.  One theory states that almonds evolved in Asia and came from the same primitive stock as the peach.  The peach moved eastward into China, where it flourished at lower elevations with high humidity.  Whereas the almond moved in the opposite direction, moving westerly on the edges of the deserts and mountain slopes to the Mediterranean basin. 

Almonds make numerous appearances in the Bible.  When the patriarch Jacob found himself living in the middle of a worldwide famine (circa 1500 B.C.), he ordered his sons down to Egypt.  There they were to buy grain from the Pharaoh.  Jacob, being a cagey businessman, knew that providing the Pharaoh with a gift might ensure the success of the trip.  In his younger days, Jacob had been a smooth operator, and he knew how the world worked.  So he instructed his eleven sons to put together a package of luxury items:  “balm, and a little honey, spices, and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds.”[1]  The sons did so and made the long journey to Egypt, where, unbeknownst to them, their baby brother Joseph was still alive.  Not only was Joseph alive, he was now the second most powerful man in Egypt.  The little dreamer the brothers had despised and sold into slavery years ago stood between them and starvation.  The fact that almonds were included in the gift, along with myrrh, which was extremely valuable in the ancient world, meant almonds were still considered a potent and valuable delicacy in Egypt.

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Bitter Almonds

By Christopher Zoukis

It happened like this:  Nero fired his secretary of the treasury, whose name was Pallas.  Pallas was one of Agrippina’s cronies.  And Agrippina, even though Nero was her son, had an intractable lust for power and control.  She considered Nero’s action a slap in the face.  So she responded, announcing publicly that Nero was unfit to rule and that she was now backing Britannicus, who was the true heir.  She would take Britannicus to the Praetorian Guards and tell them she had murdered Claudius, thus incriminating Nero.  The Guards would declare Britannicus emperor and Nero would either have to commit suicide or be arrested. 

When word of his mother’s plan reached Nero, he hired a famous expert poisoner named Locusta to whip up a batch of poison for him.  Nero added the poison – cyanide from bitter almonds – to his brother’s food.  But the dose was weak and failed to kill him, giving him only severe diarrhea.  Enraged, Nero summoned Locusta and “flogged her with his own hands.”  Then Nero ordered her to concoct a lethal dose of the poison, which she did.  Livilla / Image courtesy

Nero threw a dinner party, inviting his adoptive brother Britannicus, his sister Octavia, and his mother Agrippina, along with other rich and powerful people.  The lethal dose of cyanide was poured into Britannicus’ cup of wine.  Taking a sip from his cup, Britannicus dropped dead instantly.  Nero brushed his brother’s death aside, explaining that Britannicus had “the disease of the gods,” which was epilepsy, and the death was ordained by the gods.  In other words, it was no big deal.

So both the Emperor Claudius and his son, Britannicus, died by means of cyanide obtained from bitter almonds.  Like father, like son. 

As did another famous Roman.  His name was Drusus Julius Caesar, who was the only child of the Roman Emperor Tiberius.  At the age of seventeen, Drusus married his cousin, whose name was Livilla.  Drusus had a violent temper, which was made even worse by alcohol.  Drusus loved to drink.  Indeed, so that he could drink even more he regularly ate five or six bitter almonds prior to drinking.  Bitter almonds supposedly functioned as an immunizing agent against drunkenness.  In the end, bitter almonds would have a great impact on the life of Drusus.

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Bitter Intrigues

By Christopher Zoukis

There is another type of almond, called bitter almonds.  The bitter flavor of this second type of almond comes from the glycoside amygdalin, which is quickly broken down to produce cyanide, also known as prussic acid.  Which means bitter almonds can kill by means of cyanide poisoning.  This lethal aspect of bitter almonds was known by many ancient cultures, one of which was the Roman Empire.  Death by poison was quite common among the Romans, especially in the upper levels of society.  Most of these murders were motivated by politics, either familial or civil.  Poison was a sure-fire way to remove someone who was in the way of one’s grab for power, money or position.  It was sure-fire because, even though everyone knew the victim had died from poison, it couldn’t be proved.  There were no forensic teams, no CSI, no pathologists who could pronounce murder by poison. Image courtesy

A number of famous Romans were most likely poisoned by cyanide from bitter almonds.  For one, Gaius Sallustius Crispus Passienus, who was a wealthy and powerful businessman and public figure.  Because of those two factors, he had great political influence in Rome.  Twice, Gaius attained the coveted position of consul, which was the office of supreme civil authority in the city of Rome.  It was like being mayor of New York City.

Gaius married twice.  The first time for love, the second time for power, which proved his undoing.  His first wife was Domitia, who was related to the Emperor Augustus.  Eight years later, the Emperor Claudius asked Gaius to divorce his first wife and marry Agrippina, whose husband had recently died under mysterious circumstances.  Some whispered he was poisoned, but no one knew for sure.  Because of the enormous profit latent in such a marriage, Gaius agreed.  For the marriage would provide him with a pedigree he could never acquire, no matter how wealthy he became.

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Food Of The Gods

By Christopher Zoukis           

Thirty-five hundred years ago – around 1325 B.C. – the mightiest empire on earth crowned a young boy as its king.  He was not only their king, he was their god.  The boy’s name was Tutankhamen.  For eight years he ruled Egypt.  In the spring of his ninth year as a living god, Tutankhamen suddenly and mysteriously died.  Some experts believe he was murdered.  Others believe he died from a brain tumor.  Image courtesy

Shortly after his death, his body was carried to the House of Cleansing, where his brain and internal organs were removed and partially dried in natron.[1]  Tutankhamen’s body was then moved to the House of Beautification.  Here, costly resins were poured over the surface of his body.  As soon as the resins began to dry, Tutankhamen’s body was suspended upside down by his feet from the ceiling.  He hung there while the drying process continued.  These resins, once dry, preserved the skin to a leather-like quality.  Next, after the body was lowered, the specially prepared bandages were wound about the body.  This completed the mummification process.

Tutankhamen was placed in a sarcophagus, which was moved to his tomb.  Along with the sarcophagus, a number of personal items were placed in the tomb, including chairs, stools, and beds.  Writing palettes, memory boxes, articles of clothing (including twenty-seven pairs of ‘driving-gloves’)[2], a battle breastplate, many weapons, jewelry, and memorabilia from family, friends and associates were piled in a side room of the burial chamber.

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