A couple of teachers now working at CMHS, however don’t just know of the area, but grew up on the grounds.
The city of Costa Mesa bought the 18-acre site, next to Costa Mesa High School, for $ 7.75 million from the Newport-Mesa Unified School District in 1996. With an estimated price tag of $1.75 million for the fields, the city soon constructed the fields and had them opened for play in 1998.
Mr. Center worked at Mesa for 24 years teaching vocational agriculture as the Head of the Agricultural Program before they sold the farm.
“I started in 1974 and they sold the farm in 1998,” adding in response to his feelings towards this action by the District, “I was disappointed to see it close, but was smart enough to see it coming, which was in part why I switched over to the science department 4 years before the farm was sold.”
The only change aside from the toll on adults and children, such as Mr. Roy Center and his son Mr. Brian Center, after the removal of the farm and the profit of more than seven million dollars, in the District was an installation of new drainage for the CMHS campus.
“I was hoping they would have invested more money in here… they didn’t ask for my input,” Mr. Center comments with a chuckle.
Roy says “For me growing up there it was kind of weird, I mean I grew up on a farm in Costa Mesa!”
As a young boy about the age of six, he was involved in one of the many programs associated with the agricultural area known as 4H, which was a program involving young kids that allowed them to learn about the animals as well as do other activities such as ceramics. His first job on the farm was to take care of the 400 chickens.
“I raised two pigs and I took care of the chickens and sold eggs, I remember my dad saying that they even sold some eggs to businesses. Once they got it [the chicken coup] going, each chicken was in its own cage and had automatic water and was set up so the egg would just roll down after it was laid, but I took care of them before that, when they were in a big massive pen all together. I was a really small kid, only six years old. Sending a six year old in a pen with 400 chickens is a really cruel thing to do. I can’t stand birds to this day...very traumatic.”
Although Brian may have not had the best experience with the chickens on the farm and did not attend Costa Mesa High School at all, nevertheless he was very shocked and dismayed to hear of the removal of the farm grounds being replaced with the Costa Mesa Farm Sports Complex. “They basically took my entire childhood and put soccer fields on it.”
Mr. Center was always very accustomed to the ‘farm life’. “I was five years old the first time they slaughtered the chickens they had been raising. My mom came in the kitchen and I’m staring into the freezer. She goes ‘Honey, what are you doing?’ and I just calmly replied, ‘Looking at our chickens.’”
“Growing up on the farm my brother and I were used to seeing the slaughtering [of the] turkeys. Once they slaughter them their bodies still move a lot and I remember one time when the high school students were around, they actually started running towards the high school kids, and they [the high school kids] all panicked. Me and my brother though it was the funniest thing,” he narrates with a laugh.
“I am old enough that I understand stuff changes. The first time I drove past and saw soccer fields, I thought ‘you just bulldozed my childhood’, the cool trees I used to climb are gone, the area where we rode our bikes around is gone. As far as how it affected my life the FFA program and 4H program taught a lot about keeping records, budgets, profit and loss. They had to go through and evaluate, ‘How much I spent raising this animal?’ ‘How much did I sell it for?’ Each
student who had an animal project was running a small business. A lot of practical knowledge was gained through this program. I was an officer and learned to operate meetings and things like that… public speaking.”
He also included the high proportion of students active in the agricultural program that went off to college in relation to the fairly low percentage of students in the high school that went to college.
“From some people’s standpoint a vocational program wasn’t designed to send people to college and that’s what a school wants to do. When they look at something like that, because it was really expensive; eighteen acres in Costa Mesa is a fortune, it isn’t designed to send kids to college so why are we spending so much. Some students did go out and do things in agriculture. This one guy my dad used to teach is running a landscaping company. He really did go and do something with it.”
“It was part of the community, there was a Christmas tree lot and a pumpkin patch every year, then people could come and buy eggs and the full nursery where people would come to buy plants, and it was a very hands-on thing. Any more trying to get that type of experience you have to get job; journalism for example is one the few things that you can get experience with during high school and go out and try to look for a job.”
Brian concluded the discussion summing up all of his emotions and childhood memories on the farm with a statement of self-reassurance, “Well, all things change.”