“Traces of the Past” is a play on the multiple definitions of the word “Trace”, such as:

  • A sign, mark, or line left by something that has passed.
  • A minute and often barely detectable amount or an indicator.
  • A path, trail, or road made by the passage of animals, people, or vehicles. For example, in the Eastern U.S., an Indian Trace was often an ancient buffalo trail that ran between salt licks and feeding areas. Native Americans used these trails are trade routes,

The Traces of the Past Project on the Central Coast incorporates all of these meanings.

  • It documents the history of its people, and the subsequent marks left on the land.
  • Often, the marks are faint, as they have been muted by the passage of time or revisionist history.
  • It explores the palimpsests written by a polyglot of people who arrived via Native American trade routes, the paths of Spanish Conquistadors, the infamous El Camino Real, railroad tracks, or the crisscross of modern highways.

Historically, the Central Coast was critical to the early establishment of California. Four of the 26 Spanish Missions and one of three military presidios in Alta California are located in the Project Area. The first capital of Alta California was located in Monterey and remained there until after Statehood in 1850.

Culturally, groups such as Native Americans, Spanish, Mexican, Chinese, European and Eastern Settlers, Croatians, Swedes, Danes, Dutch, Japanese, Filipinos, Swiss Italians, Azoreans, Sikhs, Pakistanis, and Okies shaped society and agriculture of the area.

Geographically, the Santa Lucia Mountains, the Gabilan Hills, the Salinas River, and the Monterey Bay define the area. The Salinas River travels through ranching and wine grape regions in northern San Luis Obispo County; and then, pops out onto the broad alluvial plain of the Salinas Valley in Monterey County to make its final run to the Monterey Bay. The unique soils and climates of this alluvial plain are some of the most productive in the world.

Agriculturally, the area evolved from a sleepy backwater to a powerhouse of precision agriculture. Today’s crops have been selected through a crucible of changing social orders; the continuous influx of immigrants; the impacts of multiple wars; the development of technologies and innovations, and the emergence of cultural trends. These interactions have impacted how fresh fruits and vegetables are grown, stored, transported, and traded across the globe.

To portray the unique character of the area, the objectives of the Traces of the Past Project have evolved and expanded over time to include the following:

  1. Document the general history and development of the region,
  2. Showcase how ethnic groups have contributed to its development,
  3. Explore agricultural innovation,
  4. Investigate Foodways, and
  5. Celebrate today’s abundance and bounty.

And finally, the Traces of the Past Project has added a series of hikes along the 150 mile Mission Trail in the hope that history and modern food production can be tied together in a way that resonates and educates with the reader.