Produce Industry Members Discuss Southern California Wildfires

Produce Industry Members Discuss Southern California Wildfires

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CALIFORNIA - Like many of you in the produce industry, AndNowUKnow has had our hearts and minds on those that have been affected by a series of wildfires that have been tearing through Southern California. With blazes reaching from as north as Santa Maria to as far south as San Diego, produce businesses across categories and industry members of all types have been impacted.

As of Friday morning, the situation in California has been declared a disaster by the Trump Administration. Federal aid has been ordered, according to a Los Angeles Times article, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has taken leadership of disaster relief efforts.

At 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, December 10, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Los Angeles Fire Department reported the following acreage and containment rates for fires that remained active:

  • Thomas Fire (Santa Barbara County,Ventura County): 173,000 acres - 15% contained
  • Lilac Fire (San Diego County): 4,100 acres - 60% contained
  • Creek Fire (Los Angeles County): 15,619 acres - 90% contained
  • Rye Fire (Los Angeles County): 6,049 acres - 90% contained 
  • Skirball Fire (Los Angeles County): 422 acres - 75% contained
  • Liberty Fire (Riverside County): 300 acres - 100% contained

In total, ABC News reports that the six blazes have charred over 200,000 acres in California and caused more than 98,000 residents to evacuate.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's Active Fire Map as of 3 p.m. December 10, 2017. Click to expand and update

AndNowUKnow spoke with some of those in the California produce industry who have been affected by the wildfires, and the consensus seems to be that, while many homes and some crops have been lost, there has been an outpouring of support and a reverence for our tight-knit community that has risen from the ashes.

Gary Clevenger, Managing Principal, Freska Produce“I was speaking with an industry friend who shared that he has five employees that lost homes. From San Diego to Santa Barbara, there are reports that avocados were lost not only to fire, but to the wind damage,” shared Gary Clevenger, Managing Principal of Freska Produce, which operates out of Oxnard, California. “I was lucky I only had minor damage to my house, but watched over 100 houses in my neighborhood burn to the ground. My partner Chuy Loza also battled flames right up to his house but managed to save his residence. I learned a lot through this, seeing others lose everything. More winds are expected this week, so I think the real story is how this will affect the California Avocado season, as well as how the ash falling and on other crops here in SoCal will be affected. Poor air quality will affect outdoor activity so people will need to be sensitive to workers health as it relates to outdoor activity as well. Our thoughts go out to all those impacted at this time.”

Also in Oxnard, we checked in with Jan Berk of San Miguel Produce, who shared a few notes with me about how the company and its employees are faring in the fire’s wake.

Jan Berk, COO, San Miguel Produce“Our thoughts and prayers are with all the families, pets, farms, orchards, and livestock affected by the recent wildfires in Southern California. While the San Miguel Produce team is safe, we are still assessing crop damages and remain on high alert as the strong Santa Ana winds continue,” said Jan. “Some employees and their families have been evacuated from their homes and are currently displaced by the Thomas Fire in Ventura County. We have harvesting crews throughout the county and are closely monitoring the conditions for their safety. San Miguel has had a few days of intermittent power outages, but power has been fully restored to the office. We want to thank all the first responders who have worked relentlessly to help keep our community safe. To all those affected across Southern California, our hearts are with you.”

Mission Produce, based in Oxnard as well, told ANUK that while they are still surveying damages, their thoughts are currently on helping their employees and their families.

Robb Bertels, VP of Marketing, Mission Produce“Our priority this week has been taking care of the needs of our people,” said Robb Bertels, Vice President of Marketing. “Our business operations haven’t been disrupted, but we’ve had a number of people that have been affected by the Thomas Fire—some lost homes, and some are still under evacuation orders. As we work our way through this and assess the magnitude of the it all, we are working hard to take care of the families in our communities who need our help.”

As for berries, our Editor-In-Chief Jordan Okumura spoke with California Giant's Vice President of Marketing Cindy Jewell late last week, who told us that the company expects its workers to resume harvest this week. 

Cindy Jewell, VP of Marketing, California Giant“Oxnard is still a developing story since the fires in Southern California are still both ongoing and moving due to the effect of continued winds. The priority for our operations in Oxnard is to ensure we don’t have workers in the field due to the smoke in the area. However, they are hoping to walk our fields in Oxnard some time next week for the first time to harvest new berries for the 2018 season. No real volume is expected from that region really, until closer to the end of the year.”

In a press release, Gladstone Land’s President and CEO David Gladstone shared that his company’s land holdings were able to remain unscathed during the fires.

David Gladstone, CEO, Gladstone Land"We remain fortunate once again to escape damage from the fires in Southern California," said David. "Given the location of our farms and farm-related buildings and the current path of the fires, we believe the probability of any of the fires reaching our areas is extremely remote.  As we have in the past, we stand ready to assist our farmers and others in the community should they need our help. We hope the fires will recede soon."

The team at AndNowUKnow would like to express our sympathies for those across our home state of California. To all those affected, our hearts are with you.

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