Nursery plants remained the top crop in Santa Clara County in 2021, growing by 19% over 2020 to exceed $109 million in value, according to the annual crop report released Aug. 31.
Mushrooms, meanwhile, grew by 5% but remained in second place at $79,480,000, followed by bell peppers at a distant third with $19,172,000.
In the report, Santa Clara County Agricultural Commissioner Joseph Deviney said nursery crops, which include edible and decorative plants such as vegetable seedlings, fruit trees, bedding plants, roses and shrubs, and succulents, enjoyed a “very strong” 2021, fueled by the rise in home gardening that began at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It’s a trend that appears here to stay, and Susan Peterson, owner of Nursery Beautiful Plants’ Gilroy location, said she enjoys helping educate her customers who started gardening during the pandemic.
Jose Aguilar opened the nursery’s first location in San Martin, and it expanded last year to Cohansey Avenue in Gilroy, with Peterson at the helm of the new spot.
The current one-acre spot is packed full of native, drought tolerant plants, including seven varieties of apple trees, three cherry varieties, and countless succulents, lavenders, bougainvilleas and more.
Peterson said the nursery will soon expand to the adjacent two acres, due to the growing number of plants and customers. It also recently hired a full-time staff member to increase its open hours.
The abundant nurseries in South County draw in visitors to Gilroy and Morgan Hill from outside the area, and Peterson said she has regular customers from San Francisco.
“The nurseries here in the area are like the wineries—people want to come and check all of them out,” she said.
Overall, the value of Santa Clara County’s agricultural products rose 5.7% to nearly $340 million.
Santa Clara County is one of the largest mushroom-growing regions in the United States, thanks in part to a favorable climate and the ability of farmers to grow many of them on a small footprint, according to county officials. Morgan Hill has been home to numerous large-scale commercial mushroom producers over the years, including the former Royal Oaks Mushroom Farm and Monterey Mushrooms—the latter of which owns a facility on Hale Avenue north of town that employs hundreds of people.
“The agriculture industry in Santa Clara County is thriving,” said County Supervisor Mike Wasserman, whose District 1 covers much of the county’s agricultural areas in Gilroy and Morgan Hill. “This report tells the story of the many people who have devoted their lives to being stewards of the land—providing food, preserving a way of life, and protecting our natural open spaces.”
The report, released by the County’s Division of Agriculture, also highlights the other benefits of the county’s 418,466 acres of farmland and rangeland, from carbon sequestration to providing habitat for endangered species.
Grazed rangelands, for example, remove dry grass and shrubs that serve as fuel for wildfires, the report outlines. Rangelands, used for grazing cattle and other livestock, are the largest land use in Santa Clara County, at 253,893 acres, according to the report.
“Scientists and economists are getting better at quantifying the ecosystem services that our working lands provide,” Deviney said. “These lands are critical for preserving and improving our quality of life for decades to come.”
To view the 2021 crop report, visit bit.ly/3QsbuK5.
Erik Chalhoub is editor of the Gilroy Dispatch.