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.
Santa Cruz County: On the Map for Ag in California—and Worldwide
California accounts for 36% of all organic production in the United States and Santa Cruz County is a significant contributor. The California Department of Food and Agriculture lists Santa Cruz County as the number three county, behind L.A. and Monterey Counties. With organic gross sales of nearly $951 million, Santa Cruz County’s “top organic commodities include strawberries, apples and lettuce.” And our wonderful produce is enjoyed by people the world over: “Watsonville food processors freeze and distribute more fruits and vegetables than any other single area in the U.S. More than $280 million a year is spent on transporting fresh and processed farm crops to worldwide destinations” (from the City of Watsonville’s economic profile).
California grows a lot of strawberries; in fact, it produces more than 91% of the country’s strawberry crop (National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2021). Santa Cruz County and neighboring Monterey County have long been major players in berry production.
From fields in the Pajaro Valley, Watsonville’s very own Driscoll’s has been growing a variety of berries for more than a century. Driscoll’s shares some of the art’s intricacies on its website: “Planting the berries is a delicate process and the correct timing is critical. Each row must be laid out so that it has exactly the right slope, to ensure that irrigation water will flow smoothly throughout the field. The length of the growing season depends upon the berry type, the plant, and the climate of each unique growing region. For example, strawberries take 30 days to mature from flower to fruit. The berries are picked every three days, and the fields must be re-planted every year.” Driscoll’s has “proprietary varieties” of strawberries; some are organic. After starting with thousands of varieties, they select the top 1% to sell under the Driscoll’s name. Its naturally grown strawberries are never genetically modified.
Another long-standing agricultural powerhouse is Martinelli’s, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2018. The company takes apples grown in the Pajaro Valley and transforms them into refreshing juice and cider—from the signature, apple-shaped 10-ounce bottle of “still apple juice” to the 25-ounce bottles of sparkling cider, which has expanded from the original apple to flavors like apple-cranberry and apple-pomegranate. Martinelli’s products have received 50-plus medals for excellence at various competitions. A fun local outing is visiting the Martinelli’s Company Store in Watsonville where you can learn more about its history, taste products, and purchase favorites to take home.
Did you know that Watsonville played a special role in apple history? In the early 1900s, it was the world’s largest producing region. Its annual harvest peaked at 2.5 million boxes. These facts came from the Foodshed Project, a Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Markets educational program that includes farmers, food artisans, community-based organizations and local chefs. The program also employs graduates of a local program FoodWhat?!, orchestrating transformation and youth empowerment through agriculture.
Also known for apples: Watsonville’s Gizdich Ranch, which is fourth-generation family owned and operated and features apple orchards and berry fields. Their products include fresh-pressed apple juice, berry jams, and its beloved pies—all found in many local stores. You can also buy these items, and more, at the pie shop and deli located onsite. When the Gizdich family began farming in 1937, apples were the main crop, but the new olallieberry—a cross between a logan and blackberry—soon followed. Today, Gizdich Ranch offers rotating “u-pick” activities to the public. For a fee and depending on the season, people can come pick strawberries, olallieberries, boysenberries, and apples, and take them home. Many families stay on the picturesque grounds to have a post-picking picnic, either bringing food from home or purchasing lunch from the deli.
In addition to Gizdich Ranch, there are lots of farms and venues that offer local fruit picking with gorgeous surroundings as a backdrop. These include Watsonville’s Live Earth Farm (includes tomatoes, berries, and apples) and Crystal Bay Farm (berries), and Davenport’s Swanton Berry Farm, which has been around since 1983 and also has a delightful indoor farm stand with comfortable seating and lots of products for sale—from take-home jam jars to fresh strawberry shortcake. And in October, coastal pumpkin patches in North County—including one at Crystal Bay—are a fall favorite.
Enjoying the Fruits of our Land’s and Farmers’ Labor
Farmers’ markets play a critical role in the regional food system, as they enable small farmers to regularly sell the fresh produce they grow to provide crucial income and also give the community direct access to a variety of fruits and vegetables. With our county’s abundance of produce, and the plethora of farmers’ markets, it’s easy for restaurants to make fantastic dishes. For more on information on Santa Cruz County famers’ markets and the abundance of produce available to the community and restaurateurs, click here.
History, Organic Roots, and Learning More
From the economic impact and cultural significance to being forerunners in the Certified Organic movement, Santa Cruz County offers a rich timeline of agricultural impact in the area and around the world. Learn more about the history, organic movement, and more.
A Taste for All
We offer our heartfelt thanks to the dedicated, tireless farmers whose hands work with our fertile, rich soil, chefs whose imagination fuel the inspiration of the cuisine of Santa Cruz County, motivated farmers market managers who see to the details of delivering product to people, neighbors, community, and countless others who appreciate and respect the spirit of agriculture. Whether your taste leans to strawberries or Brussels sprouts, olallieberries or Pinot or you prefer picking your own and creating your own sumptuous masterpiece, or having one of our many excellent restaurants do it for you, Santa Cruz County is Neverland for real food foodies.