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From Farming to Preservation on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks

PictureCitrus groves on the Irvine Ranch

​What we know today as some of the most beautiful open space in Orange County was once used primarily for farming and agricultural purposes. In fact, the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks were one of California’s earliest and most productive large-scale agricultural enterprises.

As cities began to develop in the late 1800s, farming became the backbone of the local economy and remained an important part of Orange County until the 1950s. A variety of crops including wheat, barley, beans, grapes, walnuts, and oranges were successfully grown on the land. Citrus trees eventually became one of the most prominent crops grown on the Irvine Ranch, with Orange County producing a sixth of the nation’s Valencia orange crop by the 1930s.

PictureHarvesting crops on the Irvine Ranch

Cattle and dairy farms also played an important role in the rich agricultural history of the Landmarks. The City of Irvine’s Bommer Canyon once housed hundreds of cattle from the late 1800s until 2001. Some of the original structures from the Bommer Canyon Cattle Camp can still be found on the land today. Prosperous sheep rancher, James Irvine, acquired 110,000 acres of land stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Santa Ana River in 1878 and remained in possession of the land until his death in 1886. In 1893, James Irvine Jr. inherited the land and one year later incorporated it into The Irvine Company, shifting from ranch operations to producing field crops.

By the mid-1950s, small sections of the Irvine Ranch began opening to urban development, which led the economy to be dominated by tourism, manufacturing and service industries. Due to the rise in urban development on the Irvine Ranch, local residents put forth an effort to preserve the local native wildlands. In 1988, the Irvine Open Space Initiative was passed, which ensured the permanent preservation of large areas of land throughout Irvine for wildlife habitat and recreation.

Irvine Ranch Conservancy, in partnership with the City of Irvine, continues to help preserve, restore and protect the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks by actively managing these native wildlands and ensuring they can be enjoyed for years to come. To learn more about the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, visit