Small Hmong farms losing crops to bitter cold

FRESNO, Calif.

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Burned vegetable leaves are just a small portion of the seven different crops on that farm, near Highland and McKinley avenues, destroyed in this week's hard freeze.

The flesh on some lo bak, a white radish variety, already turned to ice Thursday. The beets on the farm sat uncovered overnight and the leaves are now soft and wilted.

Much of the tong ho, an Asian vegetable, burned in the cold night air. Even the plants that are covered with plastic tarps couldn't survive.

"If it gets down to 32, with the plastic cover like this, it helps," said Michael Yang, a Fresno County small agriculture assistant. "But when it gets down to 26, when we look inside there's a lot of burn."

Yang works with small Hmong farmers, like Fong Chang. Both growers hope some of the plants will sprout new leaves in the next few weeks, but that hope is minimal.

"Just one or two nights, it's this bad, I'm not sure if it's going to recover," Yang said.

Fong says the damage to his crops is estimated around $3,500, that's half of his entire crop for the year.

Fong's crew of family members is working from sunrise to sunset, salvaging whatever it can. The crop damage is scattered all over the farm.

These Asian vegetables are grown to sell at farmer's markets and for family consumption. They can usually survive valley winters, but even with a lot of hard work the farmers know the bitter cold will continue through the weekend and continue to threaten the crop.

Whatever the crew salvages by the end of this cold snap it will likely be used for the family's food. Any sort of damage, no matter how small, the crops won't sell well to the public. County officials are expecting to find more crop damage as the temperature continues to drop.

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