By Kaitlen Daigle
To help combat her husband’s allergies, Kim Winslow went in search of honey at her local farmers’ market. Since local honey contains local pollen, she said, ingesting it in small amount helps build up an immunity.
It’s just one of many reasons people cite for visiting local farmers’ markets. And their popularity appears to be growing.
“I like that they have a lot of fresh produce that they pick more recently than at the grocery store, and they usually have samples so you can try out the fruit, usually the fruit, to see if it’s sweet,” Winslow said.
Farmers’ markets are full of products that are unique to the region. Many people go to their local farmers’ market to get fresh produce straight from the farmer. Between 2006 and 2014, the number of farmers’ markets in United States grew 180 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“In the last couple years it has definitely picked up its popularity,” said Mitchell Winnick, RFB Family Farm farmer. “When we first started, it was kind-of out of the ordinary, you didn’t want to tell people you went to it.”
The largest number of farmers’ markets in the U.S. – 764 – are located in California, according to the USDA’s 2014 National Farmers Market Directory.
In the early 1990s, there were only half a dozen markets in the county. Now, there are about 70, said Mike Manchor, Rex Ranch farmer and manager of the Rancho Bernardo Farmers Market.
Suzie’s farm, the largest farm in San Diego at 140 acres, allows customers to pick their own produce, including strawberries, beets or other produce that is in season.
“I know at the grocery store there’s also organic stuff but it’s nice to find your own and pick the sizes and colors,” said Samantha Flores, a Suzie’s Farm customer.
The owners of the farm, Robin and Lucila, are really passionate and excited about being able to feed their community, Suzie’s Farm farmers’ marketer Kayla DeLucia said.
“Just getting to walk through the fields with so many people there coming to pick their own food is a really fun experience,” she said.
Customers can find Suzie’s Farm’s produce at local farmers’ markets and their farm stand. Suzie’s Farm also participates in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a subscription-based program that allows customers to receive farm-picked produce on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
There are 12 other farms that also participate in CSA in San Diego County, according to the San Diego Farm Bureau.
Farmers’ markets, farm stands and CSA are the most common ways to buy local.
“I absolutely love talking to so many different people and getting to promote the farm and talk about produce and where it comes from,” DeLucia said.
Most of the farms in San Diego County, however, are not as large as Suzie’s Farm. Sixty-five percent of San Diego County’s farmers operate on small family farms, harvesting on nine acres or less, according to the San Diego Farm Bureau.
RFB Family Farm provides local, raw honey to the community by selling at four different farmers’ markets. They partner with other small farms to sell produce and eggs, as well.
“With our farm, we have bees so our bees kind-of flow everywhere but if you count the acreage that we keep the bees on it’s about 10 acres,” Winnick said.
The top three organic crops in the San Diego area are avocados, Valencia oranges and lemons, according to the County of San Diego Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures.
“Mostly, I have 1,500 trees, about 1,200 of them are all avocado. Everything else is citrus or macadamia nut,” Manchor said.
Seventy percent of consumers nationwide said that their purchase decisions are affected by how food is grown and raised, according to a survey by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.
“I like that they have a lot of fresh produce that they pick more recently than at the grocery store and they usually have samples so you can try out the fruit, usually the fruit, to see if it’s sweet,” Winslow said.
“Just by being here and basically providing the vegetables here and actually eating it myself, I could just taste the difference in something I’d get at the store compared to something here at the farm because it is organic and it is fresh,” said Fe Hernandez, a Suzie’s Farm tour guide and farm stand worker.
The majority of organic produce grown in San Diego County is sold to wholesalers, who in turn sell it to markets across the U.S. Part of the produce is sold directly to local restaurants and natural food stores.
Farmers who market food directly to consumers have a greater chance of reporting positive sales than those who market through traditional channels, according to the 2007 and 2012 U.S. census data.
“A packing house would give you like 20 cents on the dollar for an item I could sell a lot more here,” Manchor said. “So my advice for farmers is to stay away from the packing houses. Farmers’ markets will give you the best price for your crops.”
Produce for wholesalers are harvested before they are ripe and stored for long periods of time before distribution. Non-local fruits and vegetables tend to be chosen for their yield, not for flavor, diversity or nutritional value.
“I think people are learning that they can get healthy, good food at a market,” Winnick said. “They can get it fresher. They can get what they are looking for, in season and local from the actual farmer.”
The current drought is changing the landscape all over California, and two groups that are dealing with those changes first-hand are local farmers and beekeepers.
An unprecedented drought is causing an epidemic in California, bees and beekeepers’ hives that produce honey are vanishing from local farms.
According to a Greenpeace.org report and performance measure, there are two problems killing off hives. First: global warming is causing flowers to bloom before bees end their hibernation, creating a pollen scarcity for them. Second: there’s not enough water for the bees to drink and cool their hives.
Produce and honey production put a high demand on the scarce state water supply. In a recent Washington Post article agriculture uses up to 80 percent of the state’s water supply.
Escondido farmer Joe Rodriguez says that farming’s water cost is soaring to astronomical heights.
“We were like $300 an acre for water and now we’re at like $2,000 (an acre). For the same amount of water… that’s how much it’s gone up,” Rodriguez said.
MULTIMEDIA: The agribusiness is facing some hardships trying to stay afloat during the four-year drought in California. Barry Koral’s Tropical Fruit Farm and the Rodriguez Family Farm are produce growers from San Diego who continue to do business despite the rising cost of water.
Everyone in the state has been affected by this drought. Kids aren’t playing in luscious green lawns, but rather in patchy browned grass. Drought shaming, a type of community policing, is going on in neighborhoods all over the state. People have taken to Twitter in order to bring the biggest water waster to light.
Recently San Diego’s City Council approved a measure that would help decrease the city and county’s dependency on out-of-state water sources by raising water rates to develop their own; another example of the water supply evaporating right before our eyes.
The El Niño of 1997 eroded San Diego’s coastline, flooded homes and destroyed natural waterways and their surrounding watersheds. An El Niño storm season is predicted this winter, but will it bring enough to quench the dry lands across California or cause the same havoc it did in 1997?
San Diego State University Professor of Geography, Trent Briggs says yes and no.
“Not enough water is a problem, but too much water can also be a problem,” Briggs says. “Particularly in areas where the vegetation might have died back… there could be more landslide hazard.”
Joe Rodriguez’s family has had a farm in Escondido for more than 50 years. When the farm opened flowers fields spanned 190 acres, but that’s when flowers were in high demand and profitable.
The farm has since cut the flower fields from 190 acres to a mere eight. He blames the drought and the increasing water rates for the serious downgrade.
Eric Larson, executive director for the San Diego County Farm Bureau, says part of the problem is the diversified water sources that the San Diego County Water Authority provides for citizens, like us, as well as for local farmers.
“Farmers end up paying an extraordinarily high price for the water,” Larson says. Farmers pay the same rates households do—but on a much larger scale.
For now Rodriguez is using community supported agriculture to keep the farm in business. In this type of system, households and even whole neighborhoods select packages of produce hand-picked from the farm. Those families can then pick up those packages at their local farmers market.
Some of Rodriguez’s crops are being held in greenhouses, not an uncommon practice that farmers will use to maximize the harvests collected.
“Everything we would pop in the ground we could really sell. Not a problem. Not a challenge,” Rodriguez said.
Kale, spinach, cabbage and broccoli are some of the crops in the greenhouses. The normal planting season for those crops is July, but farmers are waiting nearly three months longer than usual to put the prepped seedlings in the ground. What it means is less harvests and overall less income for Rodriguez.
Produce farmers aren’t the only ones feeling the drought’s negative effects. Beekeepers are also seeing their harvest season shrink year after year.
Janet Henninger operates Farmer’s Daughter Farm in the Temecula Valley. She is a honey-selling regular at farmers markets all over San Diego. She has been directly impacted by the drought that is cutting down on the time the honeybees have to produce honey.
One of the popular types of honey sold at farmers markets is avocado honey, but the drought has made growing avocados almost impossible.
Avocado groves are shutting down left and right in San Diego. Eric Larson, executive director for the San Diego County Farm Bureau, says small farmers are seeing costs go up too rapidly and aren’t able to keep their profits up at the same rate.
“Avocados are the single biggest footprint of irrigated agriculture in San Diego County,” Larson says. “As the price of water goes up the profit margin narrows.
“Some folks, especially the older farmers, who don’t want to invest in new technology, simply because of their age, they’re the ones that are dropping out and shutting the water off and abandoning their avocados.”
Barry Koral is a raw food enthusiast, with firm beliefs in the mental healing power of a vegan diet. Koral is a Vista farmer focused on reclaiming water on his property and using it to water his fruit trees.
“I have an outdoor shower and the pipes lead to the trees,” Koral said. “What I really believe in is reusing the materials.”
Koral says that the water shortages seen now are our own doing.
“I think there’s a tremendous need for people to start waking up to realize the preciousness of (resources),” Koral said.
The self-proclaimed “veganic,” a term he came up with himself, believes in growing fruit in the most organic way possible. He even uses natural worm-sourced compost as manure. Koral hopes that through his enthusiasm at farmers markets and outreach at public speaking events he can raise awareness.
“You don’t really realize it, until you’re without,” Koral said.