Worse Than You Think
As many of you are aware, the recent freezing temperatures damaged crops across the state as thermometers plummeted to below normal readings for what one farmer described as, “The third once-in-a-lifetime freeze I’ve experienced in the last 19 years.” Particularly hard hit was the California citrus industry, including many of the local citrus farmers we encounter in our regional farmers’ markets. For them, this freeze was a triple-whammy.
Unlike leafy winter vegetables, such as broccoli and lettuce that have a 90-day replanting cycle, citrus damaged by frost can take many years to recover. The economic impact reaches far beyond the farmers themselves, causing catastrophic damage to the communities whose livelihoods depend on the citrus industry. In the cities lining the Central Valley, places like Lindsey, Exeter, Visalia, and Lemon Cove, the effects of the 1990 freeze are still being felt. Banks and car dealerships closed, businesses shut their doors, and even the repo men are out of jobs because no one can afford to buy the repossessed goods. Today, in the smaller communities, half the businesses on downtown streets remain closed, and the recent cold temperatures have made things worse.
Citrus Crop Failure
Citrus trees experience crop damage at temperatures below freezing and fail entirely at 26 degrees Fahrenheit and lower. This year the Central Valley has already seen 27 days below 32 degrees with 18 of them below 26 degrees. The lowest temperature was 19.2 degrees! One citrus farmer at the Hollywood market salvaged only 13,000 lbs of oranges from a crop production normally over 600,000 lbs, a 98% loss!
How You Can Help
Hardest hit are the surrounding communities. Seven out of ten pickers and packers in these communities are now out of a job, with more joining the ranks in the coming months as clean up and pruning work is completed. On the front line, delivering direct assistance to these communities, is the Salvation Army and the Community Food Bank, providing disaster relief services to those in need. By identifying your contribution as “Freeze Relief Central Valley”, you can provide direct assistance to those hardest hit by the freeze.
The following organizations have set up direct aid relief funds in the Central Valley and participated in the recent Orange Aid: Valley Freeze Relief Telethon broadcast by KSEE Channel 24 Central Valley News:
1914 Fulton Street
Fresno, CA 93721-1017
Be sure to indicate the money is for the “Freeze Relief Central Valley.” For more information, call the Salvation Army at 559.233.0139 or visit the online “Fresno Freeze” donation page of the Salvation Army.
Community Food Bank
210 North Thorne Avenue
Fresno, CA 93706
Be sure to indicate the money is for the “Freeze Relief Central Valley.” For more information call the Community Food Bank at 559.237.3663 or make a donation to the Community Food Bank through their site.
Farm Labor Policy
Ironically, much of this disaster could have been avoided. Some citrus intended for direct consumption can be harvested and processed into juice, assuming the labor is available to pick it. Perhaps as much as 60% of the losses could have been averted if a labor force had been mobilized to pick the crop on short notice. A coherent farm labor policy, one that allows for sufficient quantities of documented farm laborers to travel into California on short notice in advance of a freeze of this nature, is one option in the public debate that addresses this issue. Keep yourself informed as this important issue is addressed on a local, state, and national level and make your voice heard!