Devastating Hurricane Hilary leaves Kern County farm workers struggling for income

September 22, 2023 /

Hurricane Hilary affected the crops of many farm workers across Kern County, leaving many farm workers without jobs due to heavy rain ruining the crops and fruit.

Because this is the only form of income for some of the farm workers, their lives were affected because they couldn’t go to work.

“I was told to be on call in case work starts up again, but as of now, I haven’t heard anything. My husband and I both work in the fields, and this is how we pay for rent, bills, and food, so it does get difficult, and we get worried because we need work to start up again to provide for our family,” said Maria Rosales. “Hurricane Hilary ruined many of the grapes, and the fields were way too muddy for us to go back to work within the next few days.”

Grapevine Vineyards, Inc. is a small family-owned farm located at the very Southern end of the San Joaquin Valley near the Grapevine. This was one of the farms affected by Hurricane Hilary that is now dealing with the aftermath.

“It was devastating. Too much rain at a very bad time. I had one block of grapes that were close to harvest, high in sugar. We lost 100% of that field. Grapes we sent to winery to salvage what was left, but the rot was so bad that three out of eight truckloads were rejected,” said Mark Hall, President of Grapevine Vineyards and part of the board of directors. “Before the rain, the grapes were absolutely beautiful. The dollar loss on this one block alone is huge. Another block of grapes has an 80% loss and is growing by the day. We are going to attempt harvesting it tomorrow, but harvest costs will be very high due to extensive cleaning.”

Hall said that before the rain came, they applied fungicides to protect the grapes. After the hurricane passed, they sprayed and dusted the grapes with fungicides just enough to not irrigate and cut canes to lower humidity.

A lot of grapes were lost in the aftermath, and this will cause a delay in the process and their production.

“There’s always another year, but yes, people are hurting along with the farmers,” said Hall.

Karina, a single mother of one, knew that when hurricane Hilary was coming, she would be without a job for a while, but she was prepared.

“When the rain happened that same day, I got a call saying that we weren’t going to be working for the next week. This was hard to hear because if there isn’t work, then I don’t get paid for those days,” said Karina. “I didn’t get paid for the whole week, but with this job, you know that when stuff like rain happens, you know you won’t have work, so I tend to save money from every check for these specific emergencies.”

She said that she is back at work now but knows that the rainy season is on its way.

“The rainy months are on their way, so I usually start looking for another job because work stops in the fields when it rains. I either apply at stores like Walmart or Ross or restaurants that need hostesses or waitresses in order to have a monthly income,” said Karina.

With the winter season coming, the lives and jobs of many farm workers will be affected. They are left without work for a couple of days until the fields are dry, and they can work again. Many farm workers are not paid these days, but they usually get called to work after three days, and it’s back to normal.

“Sometimes here in the fields, they offer us jobs in the cold storage department, so if that becomes an option, I take that because work doesn’t stop there,” said Karina.

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