There may be no farmer in America more content on the job than Jim Cochran. You can probably chock it up to that old sales adage; “location, location, location.” Standing in his strawberry fields just North of Santa Cruz, Cochran has a wide open view of the Pacific Ocean.
“We’ve got paradise here,” he said, ambling toward the 100 year old barn that occupies the land.
There were fears this Northern California coastal paradise would eventually become a parking lot, or at least the parking lot to some vast swath of homes.
“There has been a tremendous pressure from Santa Cruz to the south and Half Moon Bay to the north to develop the land and put houses along the coast,” said Cochran, who owns Swanton Berry farm, an organic produce farm about 13 miles North of Santa Cruz.
Cochran’s farm sits at the north end of what was once a sprawling dairy ranch founded by Swiss-Italian immigrants in the late 1800s. Coast Dairies Ranch is a seven-and-a-half mile stretch of coastline filled with beaches, redwood groves, coastal bluffs and organic farmland.
“It really is a different pace here,” said Cochran, sizing up highway one, which runs along his strawberry fields. “My neighbors call it the ‘slow coast.’”
With the threat of development knocking at the door, the San Francisco-based Trust for Public bought up the property in 1998, with an eye toward preserving it. Just last week the California Coastal Commission approved the organization’s plan to hand over the land to the State and Federal Governments to manage as open space.
“It is both an oasis of natural habitat and some of the most scenic land you could ever hope to visit,” said Sam Hodder of the Trust for Public Land.
The trust sought not only to preserve the land, but also to open it up to public access. The land’s sandy beaches abut some of the area’s prime surf spots, and coastal bluffs hold rolling trails for mountain biking.
“What’s so remarkable,” said Hodder, “is to have a property of this size, with so many remarkable resources, just within 15 miles from the four-and-a-half million people that live in the Bay Area.”
Even the berry plants of Swanton’s farm will be open to visitors. The farm, which is separated from the ocean bluffs by Highway One, invites guests to pick their own strawberries, which are sold by the pound.
“It’s an inexpensive way to enjoy being out in nature,” said Cochran, gripping a jar of the farm’s homemade strawberry jam. “Every time we have a difficult day here, we say well at least we get to look out here at this.”