September 17, 2013 > Leal Ranch receives Agriculture Heritage Club award
Leal Ranch receives Agriculture Heritage Club award
Washington Township was once a land of ranches, but as of June 2013, only one ranch in Alameda County, Leal Ranch, and eight throughout California have been honored by the California Agriculture Heritage Club, for 125 years of family operation. The State of California created the "100 Year Club" in 1948 to recognize farms and ranches in operation for at least 100 years; appreciation was later amended to recognize those in operation for additional increments of 25 years. This year, Bernie and Marlene Leal were invited to Sacramento to accept the award from the California Agricultural Heritage Club and a personal proclamation from Congressman John Garamendi.
The history of the Leal Ranch began when Joseph Silveira Leal of Faial, Azores, working on a whaling ship, jumped ship in the mid-1880s. He was the first member of the Leal family to come to the United States. Working his way across the country, he arrived at Mission San Jose where he eked out a living as a barber and sharecropper. Eventually, Joseph saved enough to buy 27 acres near Mission San Jose.
In 1899, Joseph married Julia Perry, also from Faial. They lived in a four-room home with no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and spring water at the end of the road now called Castro Lane. A son, Joseph Clarence Leal, was born to the couple September 7, 1900. Joseph and Julia worked hard raising cattle, growing peas, potatoes and corn in the rolling hills. They developed a prune and apricot orchard and small vineyard for the production of wine in the flat land. Joseph built a fruit-cutting/drying shed and started a prune processing operation. All of the Leal enterprises were worked with horses.
Joseph and Julia sold a portion of the original property in 1923 and built a home on the lower part of the ranch at Mission Boulevard. The new stucco house, completed in 1925, was an improvement over the smaller single-walled home on Castro Lane. It included a barn and a tank house with a windmill to pump water for the ranch. [The tank house and windmill were donated and moved to Ardenwood Historic Farm in 2002 by Rotarians and other volunteers. They have been restored and now serve as a water museum.]
When the depression and hard times hit, the family was forced to return to the home in the canyon for a few years, renting the new home for much-needed income. It was a difficult transition for the family but luckily, times got better and they were able to move back to the "new" stucco home in 1944.
Joseph met Bernice Costa at a Portuguese Holy Ghost Festival in Mission San Jose when he was 27 and she was 17. They married in 1927 and had two children, Bernardine ("Bernie") and his sister Bernadette. Both children attended Washington High School in Centerville. Bernadette worked part time in Silveira's Feed Store as a bookkeeper. Bernie would leave school 2-3 weeks prior to school summer vacation to bail hay on a five-wire hay press for the Joe Telles family. After graduation, Bernie was hired at Joe Costa's Dairy in Irvington earning $1 an hour. Six months later, he was hired at Leslie Salt (now Cargill) working in a variety of jobs, eventually becoming Assistant Plant Manager. He retired from Cargill in 1988.
In the late 1940s, the Ivaldi family moved in a few doors away from Bernie's grandparents. During summer vacation, their granddaughter, Marlene would visit and Bernie created many reasons to visit just so he could see Marlene (e.g. "The cows got out and I have to look for them" or "The fence needs to be repaired"). After a while, he ran out of excuses and just went over to see her. Marlene and Bernie dated for about a year then married on April 26, 1952 at St. Bernard's Catholic Church in Oakland; they celebrated their 61st anniversary this year.
Bernie and Marlene have four children: Brenda, Jan, David and Allison; all have become involved in the operation and maintenance of the ranch. Allison was recently awarded 2013 "Cowbelle of the Year" by the Alameda County CattleWomen. Brenda, Jan and Allison completed wine courses at Las Positas College in Livermore to assist with the vineyard upkeep and wine making. The entire family participates in pruning, harvesting and processing of the wine. David and his family have been active in handling cattle: branding, dehorning, giving necessary shots and transporting cattle to cattle auction yards. David has become proficient in repairing fences and, as a skilled carpenter, he helps maintain ranch outbuildings. Grandchildren Devin, Katelin, Samantha and Daniel help at family ranch gatherings.
Congratulations to Bernie, Marlene and all members of the Leal family.