Late Freeze, Big Loss

May 2, 2008

In mid-April, figuring he was safely past the frost season, Carl Rosato of Woodleaf Farm took a trip to visit his mother. When he left, his orchards were full of developing fruit: it promised to be another good year. When he returned, Carl’s famously tasty peaches (about the size of cherries) were shriveled, the fruit on his apple and pear trees had turned black, his persimmon trees were completely devoid of leaves and the new tender growth on his kiwi vines was gone. Two nights of 25-degree temperatures—a very late frost—had devastated his farm.


Says Carl, “We have three frost protection machines and I’ve got two cords of firewood per night that I burn that would have given us six degrees. I would have saved easily half the crop if I’d been here … We wouldn’t have had a good year, but we would have had a year. This was the coldest it has ever been by quite a few degrees for that late.”

Carl estimates that his tree fruit harvest will be only about 1% of what it was last year. To make ends meet, he’s planning to grow row crops like tomatoes and melons, which he’ll will sell at the Berkeley farmers’ market and possibly the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market as well. The few peaches Woodleaf will offer to customers this year will come from a handful of trees that were shielded by a windbreak or their house.

Kirsten Olson and John Tannaci of Hunter Orchards, who farm in one of the northernmost counties in California, were also affected by the late freeze. Says Kirsten, “This Artic storm came in at a record low, an all-time record low. Eighteen degrees.” Though Kirsten and John also use wind machines, they weren’t able to raise temperatures the ten degrees needed to save the crop completely. They are still waiting to find out how their peaches and cherries fared. “Fortunately for us,” says Kirsten, “we’ve always been strong believers in diversity.” Their garlic, lavender and raspberries are unharmed, and they are planning to plant additional field crops.  

Despite the hardships of farming, especially at a northern latitude, Kirsten’s outlook remains positive. “We choose to live and grow in a climate that’s even more challenging than the Central Valley, and we enjoy it. We open ourselves to that risk and we take what’s given to us.”

Our sympathy goes out to Woodleaf Farm, Hunter Orchards and other farms that have been affected by the freeze. We look forward to seeing them in the market soon and supporting them by eagerly buying up what they do bring. We’ll sure miss those Woodleaf peaches, though!

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