Eager for Corn, Melons, and Other Summer Crops? Our Local Farmers Are, Too
Selina Knowles, Communications Coordinator
June 23, 2023
The first day of blueberry harvesting arrived later than expected on Sierra Cascade Blueberry Farm, in late June. During a break from picking, farmer Armen Carlon shares, “We had been crossing our fingers and kind of watching the weather. Every time it rains, we have to stop harvesting because we can’t pick and pack wet fruit. It just slows things down for us.”
Sierra Cascade’s blueberries have made it to the farmers market at last, but other farmers are still waiting on their summer crops to be ready for harvest. While you longingly search for your favorite seasonal highlights at the farmers market—sweet corn, melons, tomatoes—farmers are recouping crop and land losses from previous seasons and waiting for the unseasonably cold and wet spring to wrap up into an abundant summer.
Cool, Wet Weather Delays Planting, Growth, and Harvests
On Sierra Cascade in Forest Ranch, Armen and John Carlon are recovering from a difficult 2022 season, when a late frost led to the loss of their entire crop of blueberries. But last year’s gap has created a bounty this season: “The plants were fine, but the berries froze and died. So the plants put all that fruit-producing energy into growth, and they actually look really lush and full this year,” says Armen.
This winter’s snow spared the dormant plants, but the ripening of the berries was delayed by a few weeks. Usually, Sierra Cascade starts harvesting blueberries at the end of May. This year, they were grateful to start harvesting at the end of June, after last year’s crop failure.
Inland in Brentwood, G&S Farms’ sweet corn is usually ready to harvest to bring to the farmers market by early June. “This year has definitely been cooler and wetter,” says farmer Paul Stonebarger. “It’s really delayed everything. It slowed down our planting of the corn and the growth because we’re just not getting the heat we want.”
As the weather finally starts to warm, Paul plans to be back at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market this Saturday, and G&S Farms returned to the Mission Community Market for the first time this past Thursday. He hints at possibly a longer and later season for corn this year, “if it doesn’t get too hot and burn the crops.”
Balancing Business While Waiting on Nature
At Lucero Organic Farms in Sacramento County, June is usually when the majority of fruits and vegetables are ready to bring to the farmers market. Instead, farmers Curtis and Priscilla Lucero are playing a waiting game. “We’re at that point right now where everything’s ready to pop and start producing, but they’re just not there yet,” says Curtis.
He’s still waiting on crops like cherry tomatoes, okra, squash, and cucumbers to reach quantities where he can bring them to the farmers market. “Everything’s coming in little by little,” three to four weeks behind schedule. He planted twice as much okra this season to meet the demand, which he is excited to bring to market, and having more rain this winter meant he was able to plant melons, after having to scale back last year.
Further south in Santa Cruz, farmer Joe Schirmer says that despite losing some acreage during the winter storms, Dirty Girl Produce should have as much crop as ever. “We should be fully loaded,” says Joe. He just started harvesting green onions, is consistently bringing greens and strawberries, and expects the first green beans and tomatoes to start showing up around mid- to late-July.
You can also look forward to trying a few new tomato varieties. “We have Early Girl and Dirty Girl, and then we have about 12 different trial varieties that will only be at farmers markets.”
While his summer crops are in good shape, Joe is puzzling out how to plant for fall. “The big challenge is going to be where to put all of our fall crops,” he says. With less land, he’s running into the question of how to plant in time for fall without moving other crops before they’re ready.
Making Ends Meet Means Relying on Loyal Farmers Market Shoppers
Farmers are just as eager for summer as farmers market shoppers, as each week a crop is delayed puts financial strains on their business. The patient support of shoppers helps them continue paying the bills, while they grow delicious food.
Joe is hopeful that summer sales will bridge the gap between income and loan payments. “We’re down to the wire and trying to bring in enough cash to make wages, waiting until the tables turn so we can bring in more than we’re spending,” says Joe. “And that’s a very narrow set of about three months of the year that we make the money for everything and pay off our loans.”
At Sierra Cascade, Armen shares similar concerns about making ends meet, generally relying on a harvest season of just a few weeks. “Our main concern that we run into year after year is that the costs of production are going up,” she says. “So gradually, our overhead is becoming much more, and our income is becoming less. Those are things that we think about a lot.”
What sweetens the start of blueberry season for Armen is the community she finds at the farmers market. She says, “Our farmers market folks are extremely understanding, sympathetic, and supportive. People empathize when we have a loss, or they celebrate when we have a good season.”
Curtis also appreciates shoppers coming out to the farmers market regularly, to support Lucero Organic Farms and other local farmers. “Come on a weekly basis, and buy all your food at the farmers market. The farmers appreciate it, that’s how we make our living.”
Paul adds that in addition to buying their corn, shoppers can support farmers by having “some understanding and some patience. The farmers are doing the best they can.”
“It’s just not the typical year,” he says. “Everyone’s just making adjustments. I’m looking forward to getting back on the normal schedule, then we can hopefully get some consistency going on the farm.”
Support Dirty Girl Produce, G&S Farms, Lucero Organic Farm, and Sierra Cascade Blueberry Farm at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays. You can also find G&S Farms at the Mission Community Market on Thursdays.