Caldecott construction killed Contra Costa cauliflower crop

Caldecott construction killed Contra Costa cauliflower crop
Before production moved to Salinas, farmers harvested cauliflower on Claghorn Ranch. (Photo courtesy Contra Costa County History Center)

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY—In the early 1900s, farmers grew cauliflower in the Ygnacio Valley.

According to an article in the Concord Transcript in 1923, the first shipment of cauliflower was dispatched to eastern markets from Meinert Station. Twenty-five carloads of the vegetable traveled by rail to points east of the Mississippi.

According to a column by Nilda Rego published in “Days Gone By,” Volume 1, the demise of cauliflower cultivation in Ygnacio Valley, and Contra Costa County agriculture in general, came about due to the opening of the Caldecott Tunnel in 1937.

Cauliflower found a more hospitable home in fields near Salinas, where it can grow year-round. The temperature in the region affects the size of the cauliflower heads. Today, processors desire fairly uniform sizes for packing and shipping. California produces 88 percent of the cauliflower grown in the United States.

Hair on your chest

Growing up, the dreaded cauliflower would show up infrequently but always with the admonishment: “Eat your cauliflower; it will put hair on your chest.” To this day, I do not know why anyone would think that I would want hair on my chest.

Cauliflower has taken many new forms and colors – purple, orange or green. Colored cauliflower is more nutritious than white because plant pigments provide powerful antioxidants and anti-cancer agents. Recipes for cauliflower include baking, frying, roasting and making puree of cauliflower to take the shape and appearance of mashed potatoes. You can even find it used as pizza crust now. Cauliflower steak, popcorn and shepherd’s pie are other popular recipes.

The Contra Costa County History Center in Martinez prepares “A History Note” using materials from the society’s collections. The History Center is currently closed due to the coronavirus. For updates or to place an order, visit