What grows in Santa Cruz County?


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What grows in Santa Cruz County?

June 26, 2024
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What grows in Santa Cruz County?

What grows in Santa Cruz County?

If you’ve ever visited Santa Cruz, California you’ve probably noticed something unique – at least for a coastal area. Much of the county is studded with farmland – 63,900 acres to be exact. Let’s take a look at what grows in Santa Cruz County!

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Santa Cruz is often pegged as a “beach town” – but there’s so much more to this California county iconic for surfing and the Boardwalk. This Central Coast locale really does have it all, boasting beautiful beaches, verdant valleys, majestic mountains and redwood forests.

Outside of the Monterey Bay Area, people don’t necessarily associate Santa Cruz County with farming. Perhaps this is because the region’s farming industry has been eclipsed by more famous neighbors. Author JD Salinger immortalized Monterey County’s agricultural heritage, and the San Joaquin Valley is famously dubbed “the Nation’s Breadbasket”. 

aerial view of Dirty Girl in Santa Cruz Mountains

In Santa Cruz County, however, locals know that farming is an integral part of their history and culture. After all, farming was the area’s original industry, and it still thrives today. Santa Cruz County is home to over 625 farms that comprise a 600 MILLION dollar industry. In fact, one out of every eight local jobs here is directly related to agriculture. 

A tractor preparing the ground to plant sweetpotatoes at Sea to Sky Farms

Why is Santa Cruz County a great place to farm?

Santa Cruz County’s temperate weather and fertile soils make it a great place to grow a variety of crops. Because of the area’s proximity to the coast, it boasts much cooler summers than many parts of the state, allowing for a longer growing season. 

Where are they getting the water from?

Santa Cruz is unique because all of the county’s water supply is sourced from groundwater and surface water. This situation might sound ideal, but it’s actually more of a double-edged sword. Access to groundwater does help to insulate growers from the threat of drought. However, during water shortages, underground reservoirs are perpetually “overdrafted”. When ground reserves are low, salt water from the nearby Pacific Ocean seeps into the reservoir and contaminates the water. 

Recharge Basin in Santa Cruz County photograph courtesy of Driscoll's

California farmers are nothing if not resourceful, and the county has incentivized farmers to search for solutions. Some local farms, including Driscoll’s, have installed recharge basins to collect surface water before it runs into the ocean. This allows the water to seep back into the ground and “recharge” the groundwater supply.

Folks have also flirted with desalination and wastewater purification, but so far, recharge basins have proven to be the most natural, cost-effective way to tackle the issue.

Are Santa Cruz County farms organic? 

Just over 30% of all Santa Cruz County farms are certified organic. If you’re familiar with the area’s ethos, you might not find this statistic the least bit surprising. However, considering that only 6% of all farms statewide are certified organic farms, it’s particularly impressive. In fact, Santa Cruz County proudly boasts the highest percentage of certified organic farmland in the state.

Farmer Chris Laughlin holding freshly harvested rhubarb

“Farming organically is the right thing to do, not just for the longevity and health of the soil and the land, but for everyone involved – from the farmer, to farm helpers, to consumers. Working with and eating food that has not been treated with sprays or chemicals promotes healthy minds and bodies, and maintains a more balanced ecosystem of the land, watersheds, and wildlife.” 
Chris Laughlin, Sea to Sky Farm

What grows in Santa Cruz County?

Berries are by far the most widely grown crop in the area, but other crops thrive in the coastal climate as well such as leafy greens, winegrapes, apples, flowers and assorted vegetables – including mushrooms!


Did you know that California grows over 90% of the Nation’s strawberries? It’s true, and almost half of those berries are grown in the Watsonville-Salinas area. If you drive through the Pajaro Valley in Santa Cruz County, you’ll see rows of berries – berries of all kinds – stretching out as far as the eye can see. Check out a few of our favorite berry farms!

Dirty Girl Produce

We love their cheeky name almost as much as their organic berries. If you’re in the area, swing by Penny Ice Creamery for a scoop of the Green Strawberry Sorbet – it’s made with berries from Dirty Girl!

strawberry plant

Swanton Berry Farm

This Davenport farm boasts a scenic coastal location and offers U-pick strawberries and occasionally other berries. The on-site farm stand also sells delicious berry goods.

Javier from JSM Organics at a local farmers market

JSM Organics

Farming is in Javier Zamora’s blood. He came from a farm family in Mexico – but Javier never expected to be a farmer himself. In his mid-forties, Javier earned a degree in organic farming and is now the proud owner of JSM Organics. Today, he grows 120 acres of certified organic strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and flowers.

How Strawberries are Grown at Dirty Girl Produce.

Crystal Bay Farm 

Nestled between Watsonville and Santa Cruz, this small, picturesque farm is known for organic strawberries and pumpkins. They offer a U-pick experience in a tranquil setting, making it a perfect outing for families.


In the early 1900s, the Santa Cruz Valley boasted over a million apple trees! Those numbers have dwindled over the years, but the area is still home to many apple growers and one big-name cider producer. Any guesses? 

Slices of berry pie at gizdich ranch

Gizdich Ranch

This adorable Watsonville ranch grows apples and berries. Check their website for U-Pick dates, and don’t even think about leaving without a slice of pie. 

Bottles of Martinelli's Apple Cider


Did you know Martinelli’s, the iconic apple cider producer, is based in Watsonville? All the apples used to make their delicious ciders are sourced from Santa Cruz County!

apples on a tree at apple hill

Luz de Valle

Luz de Valle, an Aptos apple farm, grows over 20 unique varieties of apples. Many of these apples are ultimately used for cider (they supply to both Santa Cruz Cider Company and Martinelli’s). They also offer U-Pick during the fall. Bonus: animal lovers can sneak a peek at the Arabian horses the Reader family breeds at the farm! 


The Santa Cruz Mountains are home to over 200 vineyards and 75 wineries! You obviously won’t have time to explore every single one, so we’re sharing a few of our faves.

Margins Wine owner Megan Bell opening a bottle of her natural wine

Margins Wine

Margins Wine celebrates the people, vineyards and varietals that exist outside of the margins. One of only two female-owned wineries in the area, this winery is unique because it sources exclusively from organic vineyards and highlights unusual varietals. Ever heard of Assyrtiko or Negrette? Probably not, but owner Megan Bell is on a mission to change that. 

orange wine and a cheese board

Bonny Doon

Arguably, the area’s most famous winery, Bonny Doon, was founded by wine legend Randall Grahm. Grahm moved on from Bonny Doon in 2019, but the brand’s quirky vibe and unique wines still make it a standout among Santa Cruz wineries.

stirm wine line up

Stirm Wine Co

Folks flock to Stirm Winery to sip on their remarkable Riesling. Unlike most expressions of the Riesling varietal, Stirm’s version is dry – to the surprise and delight of many customers. Excellent Riesling isn’t owner Ryan Stirm’s only claim to fame. His Pajaro Winery is also the world’s largest producer of Cabernet Pfeffer.

Birichino Cinsault in a bottle with a glass poured and pork sliced in a cast iron pan


Have you ever heard of terroir? In the wine world, “terroir” refers to how environmental factors affect a wine’s expression. Birichino proudly creates minimal-intervention wines with a sense of place.

P.S. – Birichino also boasts the world’s oldest Cinsault vineyard. Don’t even think about visiting without tasting this epic old vine delight.

two people holding a glass of sustainable California wine

What are sustainable wines…and how do you find them? Here’s the scoop!



CamFlor, one of the largest specialty cut flower wholesalers and distributors, grows countless beautiful blooms in Santa Cruz County – including the ones used to make this stunning dress for American Flowers Week!

The Historic Santa Cruz Rose Garden That Time Almost Forgot

Roses of Yesterday and Today

Hidden in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Roses of Yesterday and Today showcases old, rare and unusual roses – with a few modern varieties thrown in, too. 

The Julia Child Rose | Image by Alison Needham for California Grown

Birdsong Orchards

Birdsong Orchards grows hundreds of different fruits and flowers in the Pajaro Valley. We’re obsessed with their You-Pick roses and farmer bouquets!


While artichokes,leafy greens and Brussels sprouts are the most commonly grown veggies in Santa Cruz County – they certainly aren’t the only veggies that thrive in this area. Many family farms grow a variety of vegetables rather than specializing in one specific crop – like these:

How to Eat Artichokes - fresh artichokes from California

Rodoni Farms

The Rodonis, a third-generation farming family, grow artichokes, Brussels sprouts, leafy greens, strawberries and more! Over 100 acres of the farm are CCOF certified, and the family is transitioning all of their crops to organic.  In the fall, Rodoni Farms offers a U-Pick Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze!

Lettuce being hand harvested in Monterey, CA

Lakeside Organics

Lakeside Organics is the country’s largest producer of ​​organic produce. Their primary crop is leafy greens, but the farm also grows a variety of other commodities, including artichokes, broccoli, root veggies, celery, herbs, peppers, green beans, brussels sprouts and more. 

Man harvesting flowers at Sea to Sky Farm

Sea to Sky Farm

High up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, this idyllic farm grows sweetpotatoes, rhubarb, cauliflower, kale, onions, stone fruit, flowers, and culinary herbs – just to name a few! A redwood fairy circle and an Indigenous People’s ceremonial site only add to the fairy-tale feel of this female-run farm. 

Far west fungi santa cruz store

Far West Fungi

The Monterey Bay Peninsula’s cool, moist seaside climate is perfect for growing mushrooms. Granted, Far West Fungi’s Moss Landing farm is just outside Santa Cruz County – but their Santa Cruz café and retail store are rooted in the county, so we’ve included them anyway!  If you’re in downtown Santa Cruz, swing by for fresh fungi, grow kits, and a mushroom-forward meal.  

Vegetables in a stall at the Santa Cruz Farmers Market

Don’t skip the Santa Cruz Farmers Markets!

With five different locations and a dizzying array of produce, flowers, and hand-crafted goods, the Santa Cruz Farmers Markets should be on everyone’s bucket list. Click here for up-to date hours, days and locations!

Article by Hilary Rance. Photography courtesy of James Collier, Hilary Rance. Recharge basin image courtesy of Driscoll’s.

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