Preservation Magazine, Winter 2021

How Artichokes Became a Major Crop in Monterey County, California

Sea-Lion Artichoke Label, Cooper Molera Adobe

photo by: Cooper Molera Adobe

For 61 years, the annual Artichoke Festival has brought farmers markets, live music, and artichoke art to Monterey County, California. Planned for June of 2021, the festival celebrates the state’s official vegetable and its cultivation in the community of Castroville, from which our nation receives two-thirds of its artichoke supply.

The area’s artichoke industry has a connection to Cooper Molera Adobe, a National Trust Historic Site in downtown Monterey, about 15 miles from Castroville. Andrew Molera and his sister Frances ran the adobe complex, as well as thousands of acres of ranchlands, which had been handed down to them through generations. In the early 1920s, Andrew discovered the edible thistle growing along the San Mateo coast to the north and brought the crop back to be cultivated in Monterey County. He and his tenant farmers formed Monterey Bay Artichoke Growers, Inc., through which they sold artichokes under the “Sea-Lion” brand. Under Andrew’s leadership, those artichokes were shipped across the country to places like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and New Orleans, where they quickly found niche markets in Italian communities.

Other area farmers followed Andrew’s lead—the region’s cool, foggy climate and rich soil were ideal for growing the Mediterranean-native vegetable. Just a few years after he began farming artichokes, 12,000 acres were under cultivation across the state, the majority located in and around Castroville.

Today, a Sea-Lion Fancy California Artichoke brand label is on display in the adobe’s Artichoke Room. Once a bedroom, the exhibit now takes guests on a tour of Andrew’s legacy and influence in Castroville, the “Artichoke Center of the World.”

By: Samantha Spengler

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