History, Organic Roots, and Learning More – Agriculture’s Magnificence

A couple interesting facts about California’s history, published in the September 2022 newsletter of Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau (SCCFB): in 1949, the income from agriculture in the state was around $2.3 million. By 1995, it had grown to $2.6 billion. The newsletter goes on to say that “According to the 2021 crop report from the California Department of Agriculture, the state’s 69,600 farms and ranches income grew to $49.1 billion.” California actually produces “nearly double the agricultural revenue of the second highest state (Iowa),” according to the May 2022 Community West Bank article “The Importance of Agriculture to The Economy of California’s Central Coast.”

SCCFB operates many programs and events related to the agriculture industry in Santa Cruz County and the Pajaro Valley. These include an annual fall farm dinner fundraiser, several scholarships for college students majoring in agriculture or related fields, and a popular apple pie baking contest. Co-sponsored by Pajaro Valley apple producers and growers, it’s part of the annual Santa Cruz County Fair. SCCFB also publishes a “Country Crossroads Map” that lists Central Coast farms that sell directly to the public.

Apple Crate Murals can be found around Historic Downtown Watsonville

Both locals and visitors can become more aware of our area’s economic, cultural, and ethnic aspects of agriculture on the second Saturday of each month at Watsonville’s Agricultural History Project Center & Museum (AHP). You can also make an appointment to visit at other times and learn factoids like: “…potatoes and wheat were once major crops of the Central Coast of California. Today these fields are growing lettuce, strawberries, and raspberries. Years ago, ships and railroads, not today’s trucks, transported the agricultural bounty to markets.” With lots of exhibits and interactive activities, AHP is a terrific place for families. Another great resource for historical information surrounding farming and farmers in the Santa Cruz County area is the California Agricultural Workers History Center located in the Watsonville Library.

U.S. Congressmember Sam Farr played a pivotal role in our state’s organic agriculture movement. In 1990, Farr authored the California Organic Standards Act, which established standards for organic food production and sales in California. Also, Farr secured state funding for the renowned UCSC Agroecology Program “…to assist with its important research and extension work with the rapidly expanding organic farming sector,” said Farr in 2007 as part of the series “Cultivating a Movement: An Oral History of Organic Farming and Sustainable Agriculture on California’s Central Coast.” Farr also said, “The (UCSC) Farm’s influence has been far-reaching, inspiring many sustainable agricultural programs at other universities, including UC Riverside, Cal Poly, and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.”

The UCSC Farm’s origins date back to the 1960s. In 1969, Sunset Magazine visited what was then named the UCSC Student Garden Project and referred to the project’s Alan Chadwick as “…one of the most successful organic gardeners the editors have ever met” (from Cultivating a Movement). The UCSC Farm & Garden started its nationally recognized apprenticeship program in 1973.

Cultivating a Movement is a great resource for anyone interested in learning more about our local agriculture history. Completed in 2010 and conducted by UC Santa Cruz’s Regional History Project, it includes 58 interviews with farmers, activists, researchers, and educators. Other interview subjects include “Amigo Bob” Cantisano—he helped establish CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) and created the annual Ecological Farming Conference at Asilomar, the largest sustainable agriculture gathering in the Western US—and organic farmer Dick Peixoto, who founded Watsonville’s Lakeside Organic Gardens in 1996. Lakeside’s website proclaims they are the “largest family-owned and operated solely organic vegetable grower/shipper in the U.S.” They supply local restaurants like Watsonville’s California Grill. Dick and his daughter Ashley opened this spot in 2012 and they also ship vegetables to grocery stores across the country.

The Root of the Matter

As the first industry and a cornerstone of the Santa Cruz County economy, our agriculture roots here are deep. With generations of families committed to the blossoms of farming, the certified organic movement was born here, an incredible collection of farmers’ markets and u-pick opportunities became available to the community, and astonishingly fresh, sumptuous dishes landed on local restaurant menus highlighting our county’s exquisite produce. Continue to learn more about the agricultural magnificence in Santa Cruz County.