Tiny green leaves peeked over the rim of the planting flats covering half of Andy Rogers’ tables under the freeway on Sunday, absorbing the sunlight trickling through the gaps in the overpass.
When a customer wanted some of the microgreens, Rogers grabbed a pair of scissors to harvest the greens right there, cutting the stems close to the soil. Grown indoors, he said, the microgreens are proving to be a “godsend” since the heavy rains of the last few months disrupted his crop cycle at his Oroville farm.
Cutting them fresh – a method he happened to see on PBS in December – is more efficient than cutting and bagging at the farm. The time saved makes the microgreens a viable and creative solution to the problem facing many farmers selling their wares at the Sunday Downtown Farmers’ Market – all the water from the past two months of storms.
Rogers can grow the microgreens in a couple weeks inside a small greenhouse, alleviating the issues of mud and rot hurting some of his regular crops of full-sized greens. Typically, he plants the full-size veggies every month to ensure he has product throughout the year.
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This year, “a lot of my crops just basically rotted in the ground,” he said. “Six to eight weeks from now, I’ll have a dip in production ... I wouldn’t have pushed (the microgreens) so hard if everything had been as it has been for the past three to five years.”
The Sacramento region is on pace to have its wettest year in a century. Since the beginning of the water year on Oct. 1, 27.4 inches of rain have fallen on Sacramento, nearly double the average of past years at this point.
Vendors at Sacramento’s Sunday market are feeling the impact in a variety of ways. Farmers are getting reacquainted with a real winter after several years of drought, said Market Coordinator Dan Best. Anyone with clay soil is looking at standing water and “it’s harder to go out into a lake” to harvest, he said.
Some fruit and almond trees are starting to bloom while their roots are covered with water, he said.
“Their feet are still in the water; that has a propensity to kill the trees,” he said – particularly the young ones.
Russell and Kristen Fritz said they won’t know if the apple trees in their orchard in Linden are OK until the water recedes and it’s time for the trees to start to blossom and bear fruit.
“All of our apple trees are in dormancy,” Kristen Fritz said. “We won’t know until next month if there are problems with the roots.”
The bigger problem right now is getting out into the fields in the mud, she said.
Juan Toledo, whose family runs Toledo Farms in Lodi, said the mud makes field work take three times as long. Toledo Farms workers pick vegetables by hand, loading them in boxes onto trucks. But the trucks can’t get into the fields because of the mud, so the workers have to carry the boxes much further while navigating the swampy ground.
“It makes the work harder,” Toledo said.
He had an array of vegetables spread across his booth including lettuces, kale, broccoli and Romanesco cauliflower.
In terms of crop damage, vegetables like cauliflower that aren’t covered by leaves are the hardest hit by the water, he said. The lack of sunlight has probably stunted the growth of other plants like carrots and beets, he added.
Still, he said the only some of his crop is damaged, “thankfully not all of it, but some of it,” he said.
Best said the impact of the weather on regional farmers won’t be determined until after the winter is over and cleanup is finished.
Part of the financial blow will come from missing out on early season sales. He said the first crop of a season always gets the highest price before the prices fall as the season peaks. Because the farmers can’t get out into flooded fields, they won’t get that early dollar.
It’s like a mall missing out on the Christmas season, he said. The farmers “will only see peak season prices, which won’t sustain them.”
Still, “if things starting drying out, we’ll be OK,” he said. “Nature has a way of catching things up.”