In the Salinas Valley, the “salad bowl of the world” with fields of lettuce spreading like shag carpet between the mountains of California’s Central Coast, the town of Gonzales may be small (population 8,479), but its residents take pride in what they call the “Gonzales Way.”
Residents describe the Gonzales Way as a genuine feeling that they can be a force for improving well-being in their community. It’s heralded on banners hanging from streetlights and matter-of-factly mentioned in conversation by people who have lived there all their lives or just moved to town.
“Their can-do attitude allows collaboration to happen and to be successful and effective,” says Carmen Gil, manager of health in all policies for the Monterey County Health Department.
Gonzales reflects how a small community can tap the insight and power of its residents to create change and expand opportunities. City leaders have made intentional efforts to foster an inclusive environment, while leveraging resources and working together to encourage economic development, promote environmental sustainability, and create opportunities for youth.
“We listen,” says City Manager René Mendez, “and we try to understand.”
With an abundance of sun and wind, the city is swiftly switching to alternative energy sources and, through the Gonzales Grows Green initiative, working with employers to reduce their carbon footprint.
For decades, farmworkers, primarily from Mexico, have been drawn to this farming valley for jobs.