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We say “Monterey, California,” and you think of the ocean, don’t you?
That’s understandable since it has long been linked to the ocean. You could spend a visit joining tourists on the Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row, or kayaking the bay, and you could chalk it up to be entirely defined by the ocean.
But that would be false because the county is also majorly into agriculture. In fact, according to the Monterey Farm Bureau, for every acre of buildings and pavement in Monterey County, there are four acres of crops. So you might be wondering right about knowing just “what is grown in Monterey?”
What is special about Monterey County?
The Monterey Peninsula is just a few hours south of San Francisco, but it’s a world away. The area is home to the dramatic coastline of Big Sur, the fairytale cottages of Carmel-By-The-Sea, and the famed 17-mile drive.
Monterey’s rich past means it’s both one of the oldest towns in California (second only to San Diego) and was once a leading fishing and whaling port.
Today it is home to the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which protects dense kelp forests and vibrant marine life, including seals, sea lions, and whales.
Sustainable seafood is a significant topic of conversation around these parts, but the conversation extends to cover what is grown in Monterey. In fact, the greater Central Coast area is an epicenter for sustainable agricultural practices, thanks partly to progressive work at the nearby University of Santa Cruz.
What crops are grown in Monterey County?
If you’ve read about what is grown in California, you probably already know what is grown in Monterey.
The top crops produced in Monterey (most to least) are leaf lettuce, celery, head lettuce, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, strawberries, and wine grapes.
The Salinas Valley is affectionately nicknamed the “National’s Salad Bowl” since a large portion of the area grows lettuce. The cool maritime climate in northern Salinas makes it a perfect place to harvest more heat-sensitive produce like berries, broccoli, and lettuce.
Let’s get into a few of the significant crops you’ll find when you travel to Monterey. On a recent trip with our friends at California Grown, we not only got to learn more about what is grown in Monterey but also visit a few farms to see it all firsthand:
Did you know that artichoke is California’s official state vegetable? It makes perfect sense seeing as California produces 100% of the commercial U.S. artichoke crop.
When you’re wondering what is grown in Monterey, artichokes are right up there as about three-quarters of the California crop is grown in the Monterey County area. And the majority of that is by Ocean Mist Farms which is the largest grower of fresh artichokes in North America.
The artichoke is a perennial plant that is in season from about March to May. But, Ocean Mist Farms is able to artichokes year-round because they have a proprietary seed, they have a mix of varieties and they move production into warmer parts of Southern California in the colder months.
Artichokes require significant skill and strength to harvest with the farmworkers carrying backpack-like canastas and expertly cutting then doing a sky hook-like toss of the artichokes over their shoulder into them as they go down the field rows
The state of California produces approximately 90% of the leafy greens grown in the United States including head lettuce, leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, endive, and many other leafy greens. And when it comes to what is grown in Monterey, lettuce is at the very top of the list.
Similar to artichokes, exactly where your California lettuce was grown depends on the time of year. From April through October, the primary growing areas are on California’s central coast near Salinas or down the coast near Ventura. In the winter, another production comes from the Imperial and Central Valleys of California.
One leaf lettuce farm in Monterey of note is Lakeside Organic, which is helmed by farmer and owner, Dick Peixoto. Over two decades ago, Dick made the decision to go organic, and now Lakeside is the largest organic grower in the United States. They don’t exclusively focus on lettuce and nos grow up to 45 different crops at one time.
They’re committed to sustainable farming practices such as innovative ways to deal with bugs (aka the bug vacuum), giving their second-grade produce to Imperfect Foods, and giving excess to the local food bank.
Okay, you didn’t ever really consider how mushrooms are grown, did you? So, on the list of what is grown in Monterey county, mushrooms might be a surprise.
Well, many mushroom varieties cannot be cultivated and only occur in the wild so skilled foragers hunt these mushrooms and deliver them to stores.
But equally skilled are mushroom farmers who expertly cultivate the most in-demand types. One such farm is Far West Fungi, a family-owned farm run by brothers Ian and Kyle Garrone that produces organic specialty mushrooms. They have one farm near Morgan Hill and the other in Monterey County’s Moss Landing.
Far West Fungi grows 12 varieties of mushrooms and forages another 70+ types. Kyle and Ian’s parents started out selling white mushrooms and cremini mushrooms over 30 years ago but the company shifted to focus on exotic mushrooms – think King Trumpets, Lion’s Mane, tree oyster, shitake, and even reishi – in the mid-2000s.
You can shop for them at a California farmers market or at their Santa Cruz or San Francisco Ferry Plaza stores.
While the Southern California areas of Oxnard and Santa Maria are most associated with strawberries, they are grown throughout the Central California coast during peak season.
Head to the weekly Carmel-By-The-Sea Farmers Market to get your hands on some of the incredible berries (like the local cultivar as the Monterey strawberry) from one of our favorite local vendors, Javier Zamora of JSM Organics.
As we’ve told you before, California produces over 80% of the nation’s wine and is the 4th largest wine producer in the world. And Monterey County greatly contributes to that, producing almost 4% of the total wine grapes (by weight) grown nationally.
You may be wondering what kind of wine is Monterey known for and it really depends on where you are and, more precisely, how far you are from the ocean.
In the cooler areas like Salinas Valley, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir reign while in the warmer southern Salinas Valley, you’ll find grapes that do better in heat, such as Cabernet Sauvignon.
Farmers Markets To Visit In Monterey
There are a lot of quality farms to know in Monterey and the best way to get to know them is to visit the many Monterey Farmers Markets.
We don’t like to play favorites but the bounty of agriculture in the region means that these are some of the most impressive farmers’ markets in California. Head to the Carmel-By-The-Sea farmers markets on Thursdays for a mix of seasonal produce, flowers, and specialty foods all in the heart of town.
If you aren’t planning to visit Monterey anytime soon, you can still support the whole of California farmers by buying California grown produce.
Restaurant To Eat Local In Monterey
Now that you what is grown in Monterey, you’re probably wondering where to eat the best food in Monterey California. Head here for our picks of what and where to eat across the Monterey Peninsula.
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Photography Credit: All photos by James Collier