Watsonville Strawberry Festival kicks off this weekend, a hopeful sign after recent floods

The communities of Watsonville and Pajaro are still rebuilding from the devastation of last winter’s storms and severe flooding. So this weekend’s return of Watsonville’s annual Strawberry Festival is being seen as a hopeful sign that things are slowly getting back to normal.

At Conchita’s Ice Cream store, just off the main plaza in Watsonville, Conchita Gonzalez has been in business for 27 years.   

She says this recent winter has been about the most difficult time she has ever experienced in the community.    

"Well the flood really devastated everybody and everybody was really sad, and they took them out of their homes," Gonzalez said. 

The return of the strawberry festival is nothing but welcome news not only for the local economy, but also for the morale and spirit of the community.

"The strawberries are even better this year than last year. So they really put an effort into giving the strawberries a good taste!" Gonzalez said.

After a winter of multiple atmospheric rivers that flooded homes and agricultural fields in the region, some of the biggest devastation occurred when a levee holding back the Pajaro River burst in March, forcing nearly two thousand people to evacuate. 

Today, growing strawberries only mask the devastation that occurred. Agricultural fields were flooded, plants closed, and many people lost their jobs. 

By some estimates, the strawberry crop alone suffered more than $100 million in damages, and much of the prime growing season between January and July was wiped out. 

"Well, the main reason why the strawberry festival happened was to bring people back after the 1989 earthquake. So we are in a similar situation," said Jesus Madrigal, who manages the weekly farmers market which will also be a part of the Strawberry Festival. "So it is very important. I think it is a show that we can continue to build a community together and make this a thriving community."

The Watsonville Strawberry Festival officially kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning and runs through the entire weekend.