WATSONVILLE—On March 30, the Watsonville Municipal Airport (KWVI) announced it had renewed a two-year lease with Watsonville-based Urban Organics, aiming to bring fresh produce to the community as the sole organic farm within city limits.
At the southernmost tip of airport property, just over the Highway 1 overpass and Ranport Road, sits a plot of land that for years remained mostly unused. For some it became a dumping ground, filled with rocks, gravel, trash and debris.
But in 2018, Airport Director Rayvon Williams and former city manager Charles Montoya began looking for a way to transform the property. Together, they decided that an organic farm would be ideal.
“We thought that if we could find an organic farm, it’d be the only organic farm on city property,” Williams said. “It would be a great opportunity.”
Thankfully, farmer Adrian Mondragon of Urban Organics had already been interested in the area.
“I had always wondered who this property belonged to,” Mondragon said. “I was doing research and found out that it was part of the airport.”
Airport staff, led by Assistant Administrative Analyst Alexandra Aguado, worked closely with Mondragon to find ways to use the property, which is considered an open-area “clear zone.”
“Clear zones” are surface areas located at runway ends, with use restricted to be compatible with aircraft operations. The zones are also out of the way of both air and ground traffic.
Aguado said the farm has been “a while in the making” and is still in the process of transformation.
“Adrian is still working on it, getting the soil ready, getting rid of debris,” she said. “It’s been a process.”
Added Mondragon: “It’s in the beginning stages, and is not in the best condition right now for farming. It’s almost like an uncut diamond. I see the potential, and I see the flaws. After some time, as long as the airport and the city are patient with me, I think we can get it there.”
After bringing in bulldozers and tractors to move excess gravel and debris, Mondragon began working on removing weeds and regenerating the neglected soil. He began in what he called the “easiest” corner, and plans to work his way down to the southern side of the property.
Mondragon says he is aiming to take the “organic” label a step further by not using any sort of pesticides—organic or not.
“Our goal is going to be to sustain what we’re growing just from the soil,” he said. “Crop rotation is going to be a big issue… to try and get nutrients back into the soil. Also, leaving land fallow for a while, to allow it to regenerate.”
Urban Organics expects to bring its first harvest of produce to the market over the coming months, including strawberries, broccoli, Romanesco cauliflower, Heirloom tomatoes, kale, spinach and arugula. It has already started growing five different varieties of organic strawberries, which Mondragon admits was a bit of a risk.
“Growing vegetables is pretty easy, but strawberries are a bit more challenging,” he said. “But we thought, let’s go right for the bullhorn. We just took the plunge. They’re working so far.”
On Monday, Mondragon and his daughter, along with Williams, Aguado and Watsonville Mayor Jimmy Dutra, gathered to acknowledge the ongoing partnership and the new sign installed at the site. Mondragon said he believes their partnership will be beneficial for everyone.
“We are all investing a lot in this project,” Mondragon said. “We are grateful to have the city and airport’s support. I really think this is going to benefit all of us, and help bring good food to the community.”