Surf City's Cannabis Cultivation Potential
Cannabis Farming: Can Santa Cruz Give Humboldt A Run For Its Money?
Sunlight shimmers through long stalks of greenery that gently blanket the rocky slopes of Coast Range mountains of Santa Cruz County, California. New crops—cannabis and hemp—are the latest additions to the agricultural bounty of this coastal California region. Santa Cruz may not be the first place you think of when you think of this particular green revolution—but that could be changing.
The so-called Emerald Triangle of Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinuty Counties are the largest and best known region for cannabis production in the United States. But Santa Cruz County, with its attractive climate and a local government willing to work to ensure regulatory compliance with all parts of the cannabis and hemp supply chain (cultivation, retail, manufacture, and distribution) is making a solid name for itself among the best regions in America for outdoor grows.
It's a new chapter in a long and successful tradition of farming in the region. Santa Cruz's first industry was farming. To this day, it remains a cornerstone of the region's economy, generating a market value of over $600 million annually and employing 1 in every 8 workers locally.
Agriculture in Santa Cruz is highly productive thanks to its climate, topography and complex water delivery systems. Fertile alluvial soil in the Coast Ranges combined with a mild maritime climate keeps summers cool and winters warm, allowing year-round production of a range of crops.
Santa Cruz's Mediterranean weather has the added benefit of enabling growers to produce cool-season and warm-season crops at the same time. The ground acts like a refrigerator, even preserving crops like beets and carrots that are sown in autumn until they can be harvested through late winter and early spring.
Starting with potato-growing in the mid-1800s, farmers quickly discovered there were few limits to what could be cultivated here. Sugar beets were grown in the 1890s. Lettuce cultivation began around the first World War.
But today, Santa Cruz is best known for growing berries. All kinds of berries. Collective revenue from strawberries, raspberries and bush berries is over twice that generated from all other farming produce including flowers, woody ornamentals, apples, wine grapes and vegetables like Brussels sprouts and lettuce. In 2016, strawberries raked in a little over $229 million in Santa Cruz, while raspberries ($158 million) and blackberries ($51 million) were the next most valuable crops.
Hemp farming, now legal in all of California's 58 counties, is quickly becoming a major addition to the agricultural portfolio. There were over 2,000 acres in California under hemp cultivation in May 2019. There are also a few unique advantages to cultivating hemp. Not only is it a hardy plant with natural resistance to pests and disease (which can be enhanced by natural growing methods including fertilizing with vermicompost to enhance the plant’s natural sugar content), but it also enhances soil conditions and serves as an ideal rotational crop for farms that use organic practices for other food crops.
Hemp cultivation for industrial purposes has a long history starting from 1900 to 1920 when it was a popular commercial crop cultivated in Butte and Solano counties and near Bakersfield. Commercial cannabis cultivation has been legal in Santa Cruz since early 2018, as is the recreational use of the drug for adults 21 and over. As the legal landscape evolves, Santa Cruz County is currently rolling out changes to encourage cannabis farming. There are now 421,000 square feet under cultivation across the county, mostly concentrated in the south, with 72 authorized operators who cultivate and manufacture cannabis.
Compared to the larger harvests of fruits, vegetables and various commodity crops California is so well known for, cannabis farming in the state has been relatively small scale until recently, as much due to legal prohibition as to the stringent demands of the plant. But areas like Santa Cruz are poised to take advantage of the combined power of regulatory improvements and excellent growing conditions and agricultural infrastructure like greenhouses and irrigation systems.
The Emerald Triangle has a rightful place in marijuana lore. But Surf City seems well on its way to earning a seat at the table of the top cannabis cultivation spots in America.