Drought Pushes Small Farmers to Be "to the Top" | Richmond Pulse

Feature Nancy DeVille | Photo by David Meza

As California's record drought extends into its fourth year, small farmers are struggling. But you would not necessarily realize it on a trip to the local farmers' market.

This is because small farmers are doing everything they can - from old techniques to high technology - to be more efficient.

Still, many say they are afraid they have reached "the maximum," and more cuts could cause economic pain.

"It's definitely getting drier here and that makes me very nervous, "said Pilar Reber, owner of Sunnyside Organic Seedlings in North Richmond. Her business grows around 400 kinds of vegetables and herbs to sell to Oakland restaurants and Berkeley cooperatives. "I'm using water from a well that I have no way of knowing how much there is in it or when it could dry out. So I can not plan unless I really know what the future is. If my well dries tomorrow, I do not know what I would do. "

Reber is also using high-tech devices. She now uses a GPS system that tracks wind and temperature to determine exactly how much water plants need. She is also planting less and spending more time between irrigation cycles.

"I can know exactly how much water I need to put that day, because of the amount of sun and wind that we have" , He said. "We are really at an advantage in water management." Most farmers are already 75 percent efficient with water use. So asking us to reduce another 25 percent, that's scary, because we're almost at the top. I think everyone is nervous about it. "

But not only bad news for smaller farmers. As the demand for local and organic agricultural products grows, the Richmond farmers market remains popular. Fruits and vegetables are plentiful at several weekly markets in the city as farmers work hard to keep up with demand.

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Jorie Hanson, owner of Buttercup Farms Garden in Clayton, sells her products all Wednesday at the Farmer's Market on Main Street in Richmond. She sells everything from tomatoes, aubergines, beans and lettuce to strawberries and plums. She has been able to stay afloat and make a profit, but is struggling to ensure that her water consumption is in compliance.

"It is already difficult to be a small farmer, since it is difficult to make money by growing vegetables" , said Hanson. "With drought it adds more pressure to the process because we have to be more aware of the use of water. If they limit my use of water even more, I will have to go broke. "

Instead of raising prices, many farmers prefer to plant significantly fewer products than in previous years, according to Alyssia Silver , a spokesman for the Pacific Coast Farmers Association. The association operates more than 60 farmers' markets throughout the Bay Area including the Richmond Main Street market. "We have some farms that simply do not have enough produce to reach the markets to sell" , Silver said. "Some have descended to just participating in two markets instead of seven."

"Agriculture has been getting a lot of criticism about drought, but we want people to understand that small farms can not afford to irrigate And because of the drought, many have cut a third of their operation. "

"The quality is just as good, but they are forced to sell second - fruit that could be bruised a bit. But their attitude is very good and they are learning they can do almost as well with less water, "he said.

" Most of them are simply taking it easy. They are not happy, but they are doing their best. If drought continues, it will have a greater impact. "

While the severity of the drought is constantly being discussed, many advocates of agriculture agree that the impact on farmers is not widely understood. p>

"I do not think the consumer really understands the impact, since they are not the ones who grow the products. They will not notice until a particular product they like is no longer here, "said Ghigliotto.

  • Adam Floyd