Lily Belli on Food: Ag production value up, Boulder Creek Brewing rebirth & rethinking lobster
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… Outside of South County, it can be easy to forget that agriculture, like tourism and UC Santa Cruz, drives the local economy. And the agriculture industry in Santa Cruz County is growing, according to the just-released annual crop report for 2021. The total gross production value (GPV) of agricultural commodities in the county increased 3.4% last year, from $636,032,000 in 2020 to $657,370,000 in 2021. This follows a 1.7% increase from 2019 to 2020, despite the challenges of the pandemic, local heat waves and the CZU Lightning Complex fires. However, these latest numbers don’t necessarily indicate an increase in profits because, as the report notes, they don’t include the costs incurred, including labor, irrigation and loss.
Berries continue to make up the lion’s share of our local ag industry, with 60% of the total GPV. Strawberries continue to reign as the No. 1 crop in the county, with an estimated value of more than $211 million. Nursery stock — basically any plant grown for distribution, including trees, shrubs and ornamentals — is No. 2, with a value of more than $110 million.
Vegetable production also increased by about $5 million, and wine grapes had an “excellent year,” thanks to favorable weather — you can see what local winemakers had to say about that glorious harvest in this story from last fall.
The pandemic hit the cut flower industry particularly hard — value decreased by 58% from 2019 to 2020. Thankfully, GPV bounced back in 2021 with a 14% increase, although it still remains far below pre-pandemic levels.
… It looks like Boulder Creek might get its brewery back. When Boulder Creek Brewing opened on Highway 9 in 1989, it was only the 13th brewery in California. For comparison, today there are 931 craft breweries in the state. Beloved by the local community, it was unfortunately gutted by an electrical fire in 2015, leaving a cultural and physical hole in the mountain town of just 5,300. Now, new owner Joseph Wolff is working to revive the brewery.
After purchasing the building more than a year ago, structural investigations are now complete and the search for financing commences. The tentative design plan includes an upstairs banquet room, a visible stainless steel brewing area fronted by a bar, a full kitchen and at least one stage for live music. New rollup doors and electrical wiring have already been installed, although there’s a long way to go before reopening.
Wolff launched a Patreon on Oct. 3, and supporters can set up a monthly donation in the amount of their choosing to help support the rebuild. Look for the full story on Wolff and his plans for the brewery on Lookout, and stay up to date via BCB’s website, bouldercreekbrewing.com.
… In other beer news from the mountains, after more than a year of delays, Faultline Brewing announced last week that it will definitely — finally — open in Scotts Valley on Wednesday. Reservations are live and guests are encouraged to make them to secure seating at the new two-story taproom, which is located in the Hangar complex off of Mount Hermon Road on the edge of Skypark. Faultline Brewing opened in Sunnyvale in 1994 and this is its second location. While Steel Bonnet Brewing Co was the first brewery to open in Scotts Valley in 2015, Faultline is the first brewery from outside the area to open a satellite location in the county. I’ll stop by soon and let you know about my experience.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Last week, I stopped by the new Ivéta in downtown Santa Cruz, which, unlike Ivéta’s popular Westside and UCSC cafés, is an upscale sit-down restaurant open for lunch and dinner. Check out my experience in Friday’s Eaters Digest.
“The gravitational pull of wine has changed dramatically. It used to be very European-centric, and then there was the rest of the world — what people would call “the new world.” But today, and I think even in the last five years, people realize that it’s one enormous entity now.” — Karen MacNeil, author of “The Wine Bible,” on how the wine industry has changed since the first edition of her masterpiece was released in 2001. Check out my conversation with MacNeil, who will speak at Soif on Thursday.
LIFE WITH THE BELLIS
A few weeks ago, I asked Ian Cole, owner of Ocean2Table, if the almost 2 inches of rain we received in mid-September would be enough to kick-start the mushroom foraging season. He said maybe, but we would likely need a lot more moisture in the soil before things really got going. Ever the optimist, on Sunday, I convinced my husband, Mike, to come check our foraging spots to see if anything had popped up. Unfortunately, we didn’t find much — one inedible albeit plump bolete and a few oyster mushrooms that were past their prime. Thankfully, the nice thing about looking for mushrooms is even if you don’t find anything, it’s always nice to take a walk in the woods.
THIS WEEK, I’M RETHINKING LOBSTER …
… because the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program added the crustacean to its “red list” of species to avoid. Seafood Watch rates the sustainability of different seafoods, and explains that fishing for lobster is a danger to North Atlantic right whales, who can become entangled in the fishing gear that connects to lobster traps on the ocean floor. North Atlantic right whales are highly endangered, with fewer than 340 left in existence.
Seafood Watch influences the buying choices for people and companies around the world; meal-delivery companies Blue Apron and HelloFresh both announced they will stop serving lobster. It also triggered a public outcry from Maine, which produces more lobster than any other state. Elected representatives fired back against the rating, saying that the Maine lobster industry has not had a documented interaction with a right whale in almost two decades. Last week, Rep. Jared Golden went several steps further and filed a proposal to withhold federal funding from the aquarium, saying that the designation will have a serious impact on the lives of Maine lobster fishermen.
While the impact on Maine fishing communities seems valid, Golden’s move seems to be part of a political dustup between candidates ahead of the Maine election. Regardless of the motives, at the end of the day, the whole story leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
FOOD NEWS WORTH READING
➤ Sneak peek at Chez Noir (Edible Monterey Bay)
➤ French Laundry remains so hot there’s a black market for reservations. Is it still worth the splurge? (San Francisco Chronicle)
➤ 11 moments that show how ‘Great British Bake Off’ crumbled (Eater)
Thanks for reading! Eat well, my friends.