No Blueberries This Season at Sierra Cascade

June 1, 2022

We’re sad to report that Sierra Cascade Blueberry Farm will not be joining us at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market this season. Due to compounding factors brought on by the drought and climate change, their entire blueberry crop was lost this season.

Based in Forest Ranch, California, Sierra Cascade is well known for its organic blueberries, usually making a brief but flavorful appearance at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in June and July. Operating without off-farm inputs and nurturing to a diverse ecosystem of wildlife, pollinators, and native habitat, the farm is a model of the climate-wise, sustainable agriculture that we at Foodwise champion.

Our thoughts are with farmers John and Armen Carlon and their crew, and we hope for a better season next year. John shared this message, which speaks to the challenges our farms face with climate change:

For the first time, in the 34 years that we have been growing blueberries, we lost our entire crop. On the morning of April 11, right before sunrise, we experienced a few hours of sub-freezing temperatures. By the time the sun came up the damage was done, and 99 percent of our berries were dead. Late hard frosts are not uncommon in our growing area, and I knew this freeze was coming, it had been forecast for a week. In the past we had always survived these cold temperatures, but this time was different. A changing climate had started this crop failure four months earlier.

January, February, and March of 2022 set records for elevated temperatures and low rainfall. The warm days and nights caused our blueberry plants to “wake up” and break dormancy early. By April, the bushes were two weeks ahead of a normal crop year. They had flowered, set fruit, and the blueberries were developing. This is important because as a blueberry develops, it becomes increasingly more susceptible to frost damage. At early bud break, blueberries can withstand temperatures as low as 20 degrees, but a few weeks later – after the petals have fallen off the flower, the immature berry will be killed by 31 degrees temperatures.

To protect against frost, we use overhead sprinklers. When water goes from a liquid to a solid it releases heat – not a lot, but enough. If our sprinklers can keep the plants wet, even as ice forms, the fruit never drops below 32 degrees (this is why you see fruit trees covered in icicles with sprinklers running). After several years of drought and 3 months of no rainfall the pond on our property went dry. On the Morning of April 11, we simply did not have the water we needed to run our frost protection system. 

So, this year we will not be selling blueberries to our wholesale or retail buyers, or to any of our loyal farmer market customers. I’m going to miss seeing all of you at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market this summer. I’m going to miss trading blueberries with my fellow growers for the best fruit and vegetables found anywhere on the planet, and I’m disappointed that my five-year-old granddaughter won’t be helping me sell.

This season reminds me that agriculture is a wickedly risky business. Yes, we lost our crop, but the 40 seasonal employees we hire every year will lose a big part of their annual income. Three college students lost their summer farm internships and PG&E will make less money because we won’t run our cold storage all summer (OK, so I don’t really care about PG&E).

The good news is that farmers love to gamble so we will be back, with a bumper crop in 2023. I look forward to seeing you all next summer.

In gratitude,

John Carlon
Sierra Cascade Blueberry Farm