Central Valley Hmong farmers hit by freeze

January 14, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
The Asian vegetables growing in the Central Valley this time of year are known as cool weather crops, but they weren't able to survive the deep freeze of the past few days.

"We be sad because the frost kill everything."

Farmer Xiong Her usually hauls the crops from his family farm near Sanger to markets in Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Santa Clarita every week. But not this week.

"I don't have anything to sell."

While the Chinese cabbage in his field is clearly wilted, damage to some of the crops, like the Fennel and Dakon aren't obvious, but Xiong won't sell them.

"You see they have ice right here, and when you cook, barbeque, you cannot eat it, sour."

We visited Xiong's farm last week, before the coldest weather took hold. He was then covering the most vulnerable crops, like the cilantro, which survived.

But Her says covering all the crops with plastic tents supported by wire hoops is too expensive.

"No, too much money," He says. "One row plastic costs about one hundred dollars, and the wire, more expensive too. "

Xiong is not alone. There are about 1300 Asian family farms in Fresno County. In 2011, the Fresno County Agriculture Commissioner reported they produced more than $11 million in gross sales. But it's labor intensive farming, costs are high, and actual profits are low. Mike Yang, of the University of California's Crop Extension Service works with these growers, and he says this freeze is going to be a major hardship.

"I would say so because that's all they got, you know and they put a lot of work into it so it's tough for them." But Xiong is already looking ahead, to the next crop.

"In March I'm going to plant more. I'm going to clean everything and plant more, because this is no good."

Xiong and the other growers say they may be able to salvage some of their crops, but if the freezing weather continues for a couple of more days everything is likely to be lost.