Nursery crops are once again the top crop in Santa Clara County—with a value of about $81.2 million in 2019—according to the county’s annual crop report.
The total gross value of agricultural production in Santa Clara County in 2019 was about $305.1 million—an increase of about 3.1 percent from 2018, according to the 2019 crop report released Nov. 9. The total gross value of agricultural production in 2018 was about $295.8 million.
“This report tells the story of farming in our county,” said Mike Wasserman, Vice President of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. “It is the story of our farmers and ranchers drawing on their experience, their history and their faith in the earth, the weather and the markets to align for them to provide food, crops and jobs year after year.”
The county’s most money-making crops in 2019 are nursery crops (worth about $81.2 million), mushrooms ($78.6 million), lettuce ($18.3 million), bell peppers ($12.1 million), wine grapes ($11.5 million), tomatoes ($10.7 million) and Asian vegetables ($9.3 million).
Nursery crops have been highly productive in Santa Clara County for many years, but the industry received a boost in 2019 with the opening of two new nurseries in South County. These are Moon Valley Nurseries, located on Rucker Avenue in Gilroy, and Devil Mountain Nursery, which opened a new location on Tennant Avenue in Morgan Hill.
The mushroom industry lost value in 2019 from the previous year due to the closing of a mushroom farm in 2018, the crop report notes. In 2018, mushroom production was worth about $82.5 million in Santa Clara County.
Walnut crops made a big comeback in 2019, climbing in value to $962,000 from $675,000 the previous year. County Agricultural Commissioner Joseph Deviney’s introduction to the 2019 report notes that this is due to the maturing of younger walnut trees that were planted years ago. “This trend will continue for a year or two, with trees coming into full production,” Deviney wrote in his intro.
The 2019 crop report not only includes values of the different categories of commercial plants, vegetables and livestock produced in Santa Clara County. It also touts the growth and increasing benefits of urban agricultural activity, which includes community gardens, urban farms, school gardens and other farming efforts that offer educational opportunities.
“There is a great deal of interest in urban agriculture and some very motivated people doing some helpful and creative things,” Deviney said.
Urban agriculture in the county in 2019 contributed to local food system resiliency by yielding over 5,000 pounds of food, donating an average of 1,524 pounds, and engaging with the community by working with 1,754 students and 630 volunteers in 2019. Currently, there are 35 community gardens and 51 urban agriculture sites in the county ranging from one-quarter acre to 11 acres.
Urban agriculture builds community, educates people about food production, improves access to fresh and healthy food, revitalizes vacant lots and helps citizens get directly involved, according to county officials.
“This is a step in the right direction for preserving Santa Clara County’s agricultural land,” said Cindy Chavez, President of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. “This will help reduce our climate footprint.”
Urban farmers have also stepped up their production and generosity in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The crop report contains examples of where food producers have found creative places to farm and new ways to collaborate to provide healthy produce to local communities.
The Stanford Educational Farm has provided produce to Loaves and Fishes Family Kitchen in San Jose. Faithful Farm at Levi’s Stadium—which normally produces food for the venue’s restaurants—has donated at least three tons of fresh produce to Hunger at Home since the pandemic started. And Veggielution has started a partnership with San Martin-based Spade & Plow to provide free weekly produce to 200 lower-income families.
These are just a few of the examples listed in the crop report of how local urban and community farmers have donated during the pandemic.
A press release about the 2019 crop report notes that the county is currently developing a comprehensive food system work plan, at the direction of the Board of Supervisors, which will address six major components including: expanding access to healthy food resources for families facing food insecurity, supporting food suppliers, expanding use of agricultural land for healthy food production, enhancing infrastructure for manufacturing and processing food, improving policies relating to the procurement, sales, and purchasing of healthy foods, and increasing food rescue. This work plan will improve and coordinate the wide array of food system programs and partners to better respond to short-term and long-term food system needs in communities, county staff said.
Also new in the 2019 crop report is an apiary (beekeeping) section that was added to show the value of local honey bee enthusiasts. There are currently 775 hives registered in the county, with a total apiary value of $260,000, including beeswax and honey.
The County’s Agriculture Department supports apiaries through the Bee Safe Program that conducts apiary registration, training, and outreach, county staff said.