WATSONVILLE — The record-breaking 2017 rainy season gave rise to many challenges and opportunities for California farmers. Some crops were waterlogged, unable to thrive in such wet conditions. But as for the Pajaro Valley’s primary crop — strawberries — this past winter was mainly a blessing and a chance to rebound after years of drought.
“All of this rain has really helped to recharge our groundwater supply,” said Carolyn O’Donnell of the California Strawberry Commission. “Aside from a few isolated incidents of flooding, in general, things are going really well.”
The California Strawberry Commission is located in Watsonville, just off Highway 1 on Westridge Drive. A government agency put in place to conduct research for the industry, it reaches far across the state. Every strawberry grower in California — from the largest of companies down to the smallest organic farm — is automatically a member of the commission.
Aside from research, the Strawberry Commission has taken it upon themselves to help educate the public about the popular fruit.
“We want to be a resource for people,” O’Donnell said, “in every aspect of the industry.”
The Strawberry Commission’s website, which is in the process of being upgraded and redesigned this summer, is packed with information on the fruit. Everything from crop reports and statistics to lists of health benefits and recipes can be accessed for free.
One of the agency’s main goals is to help new farmers. Many strawberry growers begin their career as field workers and work their way up. According to the Strawberry Commission’s website, 65 percent of all strawberry farmers in California are of Latino descent, and another 20 percent are of Asian descent.
“Supporting these farmers is now more important than ever, with everything happening with immigration in this country,” O’Donnell said.
In addition to supporting the farmers themselves, the agency has been offering scholarships to the children of strawberry field farmworkers throughout California for the past 24 years. The California Strawberry Scholarship Program this year awarded around 260 students.
The Strawberry Commission is also the primary sponsor of the Watsonville Strawberry Festival. The agency will be on hand at the festival, held on the first weekend of August, providing information and activities for those attending the event.
“This is the best place in the world to grow strawberries,” O’Donnell said. “And this year in particular has been great. It’s a good time to celebrate.”
For information, visit calstrawberry.com.