Founded by Juan Bautista Castro in 1863, Castroville was long regarded as a major railroad junction and the first roundhouse in the United States was built here. Following in the wake of the railroad came the Chinese, first laying tracks then clearing land, and planting sugar beets along with the Spanish, Mexican and Italian immigrants. After World War I and the collapse of the sugar industry, the land went into vegetable crops and artichokes.
The Artichoke Center of the World
Artichokes first came to the Castroville area in the early 1920’s and have flourished here ever since, largely due to the unique Mediterranean type climate and rich alluvial soil that promotes growth of plump delicious edible buds. Castroville has declared itself the “Center of the Artichoke World” largely because nowhere else in the world is there such a heavy concentration of artichoke acreage, producing 75% of California’s artichokes, while California grows 99.99% of United States production.
Honorary Artichoke Queen
In 1948, a young starlet, named Norma Jean Baker (aka: Marilyn Monroe), came to Salinas to promote a jewelry store. Knowing a good thing when they saw it, the California Artichoke Growers Corporation invited her to tour an artichoke facility in Castroville, and for lunch. At the luncheon, Marilyn was presented with a sash, proclaiming her to be “California Artichoke Queen.” The FIRST California Artichoke Queen was born!
The Birth of the Artichoke Festival
Under the guise as a fund raiser for a parade and band competition, the first Castroville Artichoke Festival was organized in 1959 and in 1961 the first “Artichoke Queen” competition was held. Through the years the festival has provided economic support for non-profit organizations up and down the California central coast. Some of the current recipients of funding are: Ag Against Hunger, Ag Education, Senior Center, Mid Bay Food Bank, American Cancer Society, Sunset Center, North County High School Booster Club, and basketball, track, softball, and women’s basketball teams, North County Warriors Soccer, North County Recreation and Parks District, and the Friends of the Andy Ausonio Library.
With growth and economic pressure, the Castroville Artichoke Festival was forced to re-locate from the streets of Castroville to the Monterey County Fairgrounds in 2014 and is now known as the Castroville Artichoke Food & Wine Festival, held the first weekend in June with a kickoff parade and classic car show on the third weekend in April. Come celebrate all things thistle with us and enjoy unique artichoke foods, celebrity chef demonstrations, field tours, arts and crafts, artisan food trucks, wine and beer tasting, farmers’ market, live music concerts and children’s entertainment. See you June 4th and 5th in Monterey!