Land Type: farmland (245 acres), wetland and upland habitat (245 acres)
Uses: farming, wetland and grassland restoration, education
Access: There is no public access at this time. We plan to open the wetland and a portion of the upland to access in 2015.
Owned by: Land Trust of Santa Cruz County
Two Rare Types of Land
Watsonville Slough Farm encompasses two rare types of land: the largest freshwater wetlands in the county and farmland in the Mediterranean climate zone, which makes up only 2% of the world’s land. It is the rarity of freshwater wetlands that makes Watsonville Slough so important to a wide variety of species. And it is the rarity of this type of farmland that makes it so valuable as a source of healthy vegetables and berries—and as a vital component of our local economy. In 2012, we completed a 10-year management plan for the property.
The low hills of Watsonville Sloughs Farm produce some of the healthiest food on earth. The leafy greens and other vegetables grown there play an important role in addressing heart disease, type-2 diabetes and childhood obesity. Our fields yield about 10 million servings of these healthy foods a year! The strawberries grown on the farm produce enough vitamin C to meet the recommended daily allowance of 30,000 people – every day of the year.
Our Local Economy
This is a special place. Cool oceans and rainless summers create unique growing conditions. The active geology has built high coastal mountains that trap fog and rain close to the coast, producing varied and highly productive soils. Strawberry plants flower nearly year-round as if it were always spring, and leafy greens are slow to bolt, even in July. This farmland is an economic engine for our County. It costs $30,000 to plant and harvest an acre of strawberries and nearly all that is spent locally.
Reducing Water Use
By retiring 55 acres of land from production, fallowing a quarter of the remaining farmland each year, and improving irrigation, the Land Trust will reduce water use on the property by thirty to forty percent. With extensive input from the growers on the property (Reiter Affiliated Companies and Lakeside Organics), we looked at three factors when considering which farmland should be retired—soil erosion, steepness on slope, and proximity to wetlands.
Improving Water Quality
As the map shows, the four sloughs on the property lace like fingers through the hilly farmland, making their protection from water runoff and soil erosion a challenging task. Proposed projects include building grass-lined channels, replacing undersized culverts and installing nine new ones, adding hedgerows, grassland buffers, and three new sediment basins. We won’t be able to do it all. Projects will be ranked “high priority” where we can achieve the biggest bang for our conservation dollar.
Caring for Our Wetlands
When the Gold Rush—and the people rush—began, California didn’t have a lot of wetlands and since then we’ve lost 90% of what we had. Those few wetlands that remain play an outsized role in the natural order. They protect water quality and the health of the Monterey Bay, and they recharge our underground aquifers. A total of five acres of riparian wetland and wet meadow will be added.
Grassland Restoration & Enhancement
Six proposed grassland restoration sites will increase native habitat at the farm by twenty-five percent. By taking hilly, marginal farmland out of production and returning it to grassland, wildlife habitat will be created for a wide variety of species. In addition, the enhancement of 31 acres of existing grassland will allow for easy transition of wildlife between wet meadows and grassland.
Oak Woodland and Birds
The management plan calls for the restoration of oak woodland habitat between Hanson and Harkins Sloughs, in the southwest corner of the property. Coast live oak woodland—overlapped with wetland and grassland—is important bird nesting and foraging habitat, supporting a large number of raptors such as red-tailed hawk, American kestrel, and coopers hawk.
Native Seed Farm
A five-acre seed farm in the southwest corner of the property will provide seed for the proposed grassland enhancement and restoration projects. Among the many educational opportunities at Watsonville Slough Farm for Pajaro Valley High School students, tending to the native seed farm is one way students can learn—on the ground—the balance of a working farm and wetland habitat.
Trails and Education
Watsonville Slough Farm provides unparalleled opportunities for access and environmental education. By the end of 2014 the Land Trust will develop an access plan for the property. Already we are thinking about trails, a community garden and kayaking opportunities! Watsonville Wetlands Watch will continue its environmental education programs on the property for Pajaro Valley High School students, and the Land Trust will participate on the City of Watsonville’s Trails Master Plan Advisory Committee.
A Short History
The Kalenderuc Native American tribe, a subgroup of the Ohlone’s, lived on a portion of the property prior to Spanish settlement in 1769. Since then the land has seen several private-ownership farming operations. Founded in 1990, Watsonville Wetlands Watch helped protect the property from being developed into 1,000 condos and a golf course, shown in this map. The Land Trust purchased Watsonville Slough Farm in two parts between 2009 and 2010, forever protecting the land from development.
1,100 Acres Protected
The 490-acre Watsonville Slough Farm is part of nearly 1,100-acres of protected land at the Watsonville Sloughs, including:
• California Department of Fish and Game: 350 acres
• U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: 109 acres
• Santa Cruz County: 18 acres
• City of Watsonville: 46 acres
• California Coastal Commission: 80 acres
• Watsonville Wetlands Watch: 6 acres