Each day the mission overseers (missionaries, lay helpers, headmen from the resident Indian bands, or members of the soldiers' families) would lead work groups of mission Indians out of the walls to the labores, or farm lands. Farming was the main occupation of the communities in their quest to become self-sufficient. Crops included maize (corn), beans, chile, squash, melons, cotton, and sugar cane. Orchards produced apples, peaches, grapes and other fruits.
Each mission had an acequia. This system of gravity-fed irrigation ditches brought water diverted from the river by means of a dam to the fields and orchards. A portion was brought through the compound. The grist mill at Mission San José was powered by this water.