'This is a catastrophe': Farmworkers bear the brunt of crop flooding, desperate for federal aid

Lauren Martinez Image
Friday, March 24, 2023
Farmworkers bear the brunt of crop flooding, desperate for federal aid
While consumer impacts of the crop flooding may be lighter, farmworkers are now desperately in need of jobs, housing, and assistance.

MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- The extent of storm damage to the largest food-producing state will come at a cost, but it may take some time before we see food prices jump.

Aaron Smith, Professor of Agricultural Economics at UC Davis, says the largest impacts from the floods have been on the Central Coast. Smith said that's where a lot of lettuce, broccoli and strawberries are grown.

"Usually if an event is going to have a big effect, you'll see wholesale prices jump up immediately. And I have not yet seen that happen," Smith said.

The food economist said it could be a couple of months before the next wave of crops so this may reduce supply across the country.

VIDEO: Monterey County flooding forces evacuations as farmers face serious impacts

A levee break in the small Monterey County community of Pajaro has forced the evacuation of nearly 2,000 residents, virtually the entire town.

Smith explained produce is available from other areas that could alleviate a price jump.

"So many of these crops grown in the winter time here in California are grown in Arizona or in Mexico and we're kind of at the point where we're transitioning from productions in those locations which are a little further south to locations around Monterey," Smith said. "What that means is that the effect is not as bad if crops had been wiped out sort of more into the summer. What that also means is that there is production that is available from some of those other locations that can sort of come in and fill the gap. And that mitigates the price impact."

He said prices are driven more from processing, packaging and marketing rather than individual cost of the community in the field.

"I think for many of us in grocery stores buying our food- it'll be, maybe we'll pay a few dollars extra each week for the next couple of months because of this particular event. But it's probably not something most people will notice," Smith said.

While the exact impact on consumers is unknown, the impact on farmworkers is unquestionable.

RELATED: Timetable for Pajaro evacuees to return home is unclear as questions arise over levee maintenance

Eloy Ortiz is the president and board member of the organization, Center for Farmworker Families based in Watsonville.

"My main message is this is a catastrophe," Ortiz said.

Last Friday, the organization helped 500 families during their food and resource distribution event in Watsonville.

"The drought had an impact on hours available and now with this flooding, it's just going to decrease the amount of employment opportunities for farmworkers and what there will be as far as jobs there will be less," Ortiz said.

Ortiz says there will be fewer fields to work in and fewer spaces to live.

"What we've seen is rooms being rented out in homes for like, up to $1,800 for multiple 5-6 people living in a room of a home," Ortiz said.

He said farmworkers and their families are dependent on organizations like Center for Farmworker Families. They try to fill the gap since federal aid will not go to farmworkers without documentation. But federal aid is desperately needed.

"All the donations from the public will not be able to resolve this situation. We need federal assistance. Federal financial assistance," Ortiz said.

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