The Norton Trilogy

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Recently, major egg producer, Clint Hickman, returned my call to discuss Hickman's Eggs and the company's mutually beneficial relationships with the state's universities. He singled out the John and Doris Norton School for Family and Consumer Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona. Clint discussed the Hickman family's long relationship with UA and allowed that he has lectured to the school's undergraduate students in the Norton School, touting the benefits of direct marketing in the retail food industry. Arnott Duncan and the Duncan Family Farms, a 2500-acre operation in Goodyear, likewise, have taken an assertive approach to public outreach and education about their role in the food industry. In a variety of formats and platforms Duncan has addressed topics like water conservation, cover crops, the creation of economically viable open space to help protect the west valley's Luke Air Force Base, and giving back to the community via donations to food banks.

Both Hickman's and Duncan's agribusiness enterprises, and their fundamental relationship to the retail food industry, have increasingly worked directly with our universities, in broadening the knowledge base in farm to fork programs. Their shared interests in working with UA's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, represent a continuity of awareness of one of Arizona's premiere agricultural pioneer families that, for three generations, has played a major role in farming and ranching in the arid Southwest that provided foodstuffs for an increasing regional population. The family of John R. Norton III, whose name is affixed to the John and Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences in UA's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, represents this important dimension in the history of irrigated agriculture and livestock raising.

There has been a long and sometimes complicated history of how Arizona developed its agricultural infrastructure and much of it has to do with the ability to put scarce water resources to beneficial use. Clint Hickman cited the Nortons as major innovators and graciously expressed his appreciation that a new book written by yours truly, The Norton Trilogy (Ft. Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 2013), which details the development of the West—in particular the development of water resources and irrigated agriculture in Arizona—as seen through the experiences of three generations of John Ruddle Nortons, will be released later this year.

The work details the earliest efforts at irrigated agriculture in the nineteenth century through the monumental Arizona v. California Supreme Court case that helped determine where the life-giving waters of the Colorado River would be divided, and into the critical events that have shaped the late twentieth century and early twenty-first. The Nortons were at the center of these and other developments that made Arizona into a vital population and agricultural center. Pioneers like John Ruddle Norton (1854-1923), who was one of three members of the legendary Breakenridge Survey of 1889 that located the site of what became Roosevelt Dam, and John Ruddle Norton, Jr. (1901-1987), who, by the 1930s emerged as one of Arizona's leading agriculture producers and livestock growers, shaped the very landscape of the western U.S.—a region that would help to supply the country with cotton, vegetables, and livestock throughout World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II. And John Ruddle Norton III built upon the legacies of his father and grandfather to become one of the region's major agribusiness entrepreneurs, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture in the Ronald Reagan administration, and one of the West's leading philanthropists in education, health care, and the arts.

Several themes run through The Norton Trilogy: the most important is the interplay between human values and the waterscape. Technology, of course, played a monumental role in this century-long drama, for dynamite, bulldozers, and reinforced concrete impacted the region's water supply in dramatic fashion. Another theme is the central role played by government—local, state, regional, national—in shaping water policies. The biographical profiles of each John Norton addressed in this work reveal much about the history of Arizona and the central role that the quest for water played in the growth and development in the region.

Read the rest of this March 2013 Arizona Food Industry Journal article at the link below.

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