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Salinas Valley

It’s not easy being green: how growers continue to conquer challenges

In Salinas, agriculture is more than just business, it’s life—to growers large and small, to multigenerational farmers, and to storied risk-takers who laid the foundation for one of the world’s most productive growing regions.

And although California suffered through much volatility last year—including too little rain, too much rain, floods, wildfires, mudslides, and freezes—Salinas bested most challenges to provide mightily to the nation’s food supply.

Come along as we visit America’s Salad Bowl, where businesses continue to seek creative solutions to weather, labor, and food safety while balancing the needs of environmental stewardship.

Highs & Lows
Although Salinas and Monterey County are renowned for their agricultural activity, due to various challenges the past few years, agricultural output has declined—even in such mainstays as head and leaf lettuce.

The good news is there are still more than 150 crops grown in the region and even with falling output, leaf lettuce—including butter, green, and red leaf, as well as endive, escarole, and romaine—led crop values for the county and comprised over 60 percent of national production. In addition, Salinas still dominates U.S. production for several other commodities, including head or iceberg lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, and strawberries.

Greenhouse production, on the rise in other parts of the country and in Canada, is undergoing an identity crisis in California as numerous growers are shifting from tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers to cannabis, after recreational use of marijuana was legalized in January.

Organic ups and downs
Organic production, too, is varying in Monterey County, with acreage fall-ing even as demand and sales continue to surge across much of the country. This mirrors the experience of Mark Sergent, sales manager for S & S Marketing and Sales, Inc. in Salinas, who says he deals “a bit” in organics, but not much due to inconsistent availability. “I don’t focus on organics, [because] if I did, I might not be in business.”

Despite the recent declines, Mon-terey County has been an important site of organic production and innovation. Indeed, Monterey County was the first to register with the State of California and be accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to certify organics. The county also hosts the Organic Grower Summit in December to facilitate connections across the supply chain.

Brian Vertrees, director of business development for Naturipe Farms, LLC, sees the current gap between organic supply and demand as a great opportunity, pretty much the opposite of Sergent’s experiences. “Organics continue to be a trend that show no signs of slowing down.

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