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Sunday, August 7, 2022

Rains destroyed 80% of the Bay Area's first strawberry crop of the season

Strawberries in the Bay Area
Workers harvest strawberries at JSM Organics in Aromas, Calif. on April 23, 2022. The late rain has ruined much of the spring strawberry crop at JSM Organics. (Javier Zamora/JSM Organics via Bay City News)

After a wet fall and warm, sunny days in the first three months of this year, the 2022 Bay Area strawberry crop was exceptionally promising, growing earlier and faster than usual. However, rains destroyed 80 percent of the early season crop.

The Bay Area strawberry crop looked promising, which was a pleasant surprise for Javier Zamora, owner of JSM Organics in Watsonville. And then the spring rains came. Now, more than 80 percent of the crop has rotted.

"It's a total loss of income that we had really been looking forward to," said Zamora, referring to the work he and his team put in during the winter months while planting and tending the crop. 

"We keep borrowing money to keep our payroll. The first big sale we were going to make, we lost," said the resident of neighboring Santa Cruz County.

Strawberries in the Bay Area are generally planted in November and the first major crop begins to produce in late March or early April. 

Now, the first two weeks of the Bay Area strawberry crop, when berries usually fetch their highest price, have been lost. Although the damaged plants will eventually reproduce, it's a big blow to growers.

Strawberries in the Bay Area
The late rain has ruined much of the spring strawberry crop at M Organics in Aromas, Calif. on April 23, 2022. (Javier Zamora/JSM Organics via Bay City News)

"The first strawberries: the prices are incredibly good. Right now we can sell a box between $34 and $36. But in July we will sell the boxes between $16 and $18 because there are too many ?strawberries? available at that time, and there are other fruits on the market."

Thirty minutes away, in Salinas, Rigoberto Bucio, owner of Bucio Organic Farms, says that between 50 and 60 percent of his strawberry crop has been destroyed, resulting in losses of around US$15,000.

And it's not just the berries. Bucio said much of his latest lettuce crop has also been damaged.

"The changes in temperature ?with? the cold and rain form a white color in the lettuce, making it difficult to sell," said Bucio.

Rigoberto, who has been farming for more than 10 years and sells most of his crops to wholesalers, said he is stressed about how the rest of the season will turn out. He also stressed that farming is becoming more and more complicated due to the weather.

Zamora noted that all farms in the area have been affected by the rains. The large conglomerates, however, have insurance policies and deeper pockets, which mitigate the impact when crops are lost. It's a safety net that small, family farms like yours don't have.

It is worth noting that the financial ups and downs experienced by producers are accompanied by a roller coaster of emotions.

"People hear about farmers losing their farms, but they don't hear much about the mental health and stress they go through," he referred.

In spite of everything, Zamora will not leave his farm.

"I'm not going to give up," he sentenced. "I wouldn't do anything else. It's super beautiful to see people enjoying the vegetables we grow."

JSM Organics products can be found at the Diablo Valley Farmers Market in Walnut Creek on Saturdays and at the Fort Mason and Kensington Farmers Markets on Sundays.

With information from Bay City News

You may be interested in: California strawberries, grown by indigenous hands

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