Oral history by: Yvonne Yurek
Date submitted: December 4, 2012
Listen to Yvonne Yurek’s Interview of Bonnie and Dave Robeson
Print Version (pdf)
Bonnie Robeson was born in Minot, North Dakota and has six siblings (3 boys and 3 girls). Her Mother is originally from Puerto Rico and when her father was stationed in San Juan, he met Bonnie’s mother, married her and brought her back to the United States. The family would move from state to state due to her father being in the service, but finally they settled in San Jose, California. Bonnie remembers when South San Jose was all orchards and recalled how homes started to be rapidly built resulting in most of the orchards being torn down. Bonnie attended Andrew Hill High School and participated in a lot of extracurricular activities such as: swim club, synchronized swimming, getting her Red Cross certification and even cheerleading. She also recalled doing some fun things with her family like piling into a station wagon to go on camping trips or up to Lake Tahoe. After high school, Bonnie took a lot of business classes in hopes of being a secretary. Bonnie met her future husband Dave when she was in high school and he was in College. Dave happened to be a good friend of Bonnie’s best friend’s boyfriend and so they were set up on a blind date, got to know each other and started to date. One of the things they would do together in Morgan Hill was go to the Circle Drive-In or the A&W where care hops came out to the car to get your order.
Dave was born in Oklahoma, but moved to California when he was 9 months old in 1942. Dave’s mother was of Irish decent, while his father was a mix of Cherokee Indian, Irish, German and a few other ethnicities as well. Dave’s family made the decision to move to California because of the negative effects of the Dust Bowl. Their plan was to come to California where there was more abundant agricultural work and eventually travel back to Oklahoma for good. Unfortunately, the house Dave’s family owned in Oklahoma burned down and a lot of their belongings were stolen, so they made the decision to permanently reside in San Martin, California. Dave attended San Martin Grammar School until the 8th grade, Live Oak High School until the 12th grade and attended San Benito College in Hollister. Throughout high school, Dave excelled in sports; he even clenched a scholarship for college on baseball and basketball. One of the things Dave loved to do for fun was race cars on the raceway in Fremont. After Bonnie graduated high school, Dave went into the National Guard where he traveled to Kentucky for basic training and then served for 6 months. When he got out, he married Bonnie and still was in the reserves for three years where he would have to travel to camp for two weeks. After he got out of the National Guard, Dave went to work in the grocery business. First, he worked at a market that the Bonfante’s used to own, but when business started getting slow he went to work for Nob Hill for five years. Back then, Nob Hill was a general store where you could buy groceries, clothes etc. Suddenly, Alpha Beta was opening up in Morgan Hill, so Dave moved their and became a manager, worked there for thirty five years and then retired. Along with her husband, Bonnie worked for Alpha Beta for twenty nine years starting out part time at first so that she could be with her children. Later, Bonnie eased into full time at Alpha Beta as her children were all in school full time as well.
Bonnie resided in San Jose until she married Dave and that’s when the couple decided to reside in San Martin. They married in 1964, had their first child in 1965 and rented a house until they were ready to buy one in 1969. Eventually when their third child was born, Bonnie and Dave bought another home in Morgan Hill off of Watsonville Road because their current house was too small. They lived there for fourteen years until Dave decided he wanted a house and property with more land so that he could grow crops and farm. They found a house for sale on Murphy Avenue in Morgan Hill and bought it in 1984. Right away they started growing crops and attaining animals such as cows, pigs and chickens on their property. They raise the pigs and cows and butcher them for meat and share/distribute it with their family and friends. They would also use the chickens as a source of fresh farm eggs. Finally, Dave and Bonnie got rid of the animals on the farm so that Dave was free to grow an abundant amount of tomatoes. The strong love for tomatoes was ingrained in the family through generation and generation.
Dave started growing tomatoes with no thought in mind to sell them; he just wanted to grow in order to provide for his family and friends. Dave was extremely knowledgeable about tomatoes, but never went to school to learn about agriculture. Instead, Dave took what he learned from his parents, magazines, reading and researching and put it all into his work with tomatoes. He did not use pesticides or any other unnatural chemicals in producing his crops and this made a huge difference in their quality and taste. Dave started off experimenting with different seeds and kinds of tomatoes and got a feel for what worked for him and the environment and what did not. Each year, whatever type of tomato did well during the season, Dave would save the seeds and plant them the next season. He even built a hot house where he would plant the seeds and watch them grow until they were ready to be transferred into the ground. After some time, people would ask Dave if he was planning on selling his tomatoes but wasn’t ready; he would let people come, pick and take what they wanted. Later, Dave got the idea to grow more crops and start making a tiny business out of it and start selling. A few hundred crops turned into a thousand, which turned into fifteen- hundred, which eventually turned into over two- thousand.
By 1996 Dave made a business out of his tomatoes. He had held jobs simultaneously, but was really dedicated to his work on the farm. The main crop and showstopper were Dave’s tomatoes, but he grew and sold other things as well like: eggplant, squash and peppers. Dave worked extremely hard and did majority of the work himself, but when it became “picking time”, he hired help which usually consisted of his family, children and grandchildren. Dave advertised his tomatoes on the streets of Morgan Hill and even strategically placed a sign for people driving on the freeway to see. The tomatoes started attracting a lot of attention and word of “Dave’s Famous Tomatoes” spread like wildfire. People from all over the bay area and travelers from out of state would make their way to get tomatoes and most customers came back year after year after year. Modern technology (such as Facebook) also sparked interest and attained more customers for Dave. In 2010, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle visited Dave and Bonnie’s home to talk about the tomatoes and write an article about them. She followed Dave, took pictures and asked questions about the tomatoes and even revealed that she heard about how good the tomatoes were from her mother-in-law who stopped by the stand to purchase some.
Unfortunately, this year is the last year that “Dave’s Famous Old Tomatoes” stand will be selling tomatoes. Growing tomatoes takes a lot of hard work and dedication and there just simply isn’t enough time for anyone to be as persistent and involved with the crop as Dave was. It’s amazing how one man working the land could produce something so remarkable that it touched the lives of people from all over; but that’s exactly what Dave did and it will not be forgotten.