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"It's not going to be a quick turnaround:" Monterey County assesses farmland damage after storms

The Salinas River in Monterey County.
Monterey County Public Information Twitter / @MontereyCoInfo
A birds-eye view of the Salinas River in Monterey County.

After the worst of the winter storm passed, Monterey County reported that 600 acres of farmland were affected by flooding. But now, the county estimates about 20-30 thousand acres of farmland were damaged.

Chris Lopez represents most of South Monterey County on the Board of Supervisors. He said not only were homes and farmland destroyed, but many residents are concerned about their jobs, and transportation to work.

“Feeling the weight of that moment and understanding what it meant to them to lose every family vehicle and to get out with just the clothes on their back at that time was extremely difficult," Lopez said.

"Those are the memories that stick with me as I look at recovery and remember what it's going to take for these folks. It's not going to be a quick turnaround.”

Gonzales River Bridge in Monterey County.
Monterey County
Gonzales River Bridge in Monterey County.

Since agriculture is the area’s leading industry, Lopez said this damage will majorly affect their local economy. About 60 percent of all leaf lettuce, head lettuce and celery in the nation comes from Monterey County.

Lopez said when people look at fruits and vegetables in their supermarket, they don't typically think about the labor and land behind the product.

“A farm worker has to go out and put it in the ground, and then you wait, you've got a group of folks who come in to irrigate, and then hand hoe, and make sure they remove weeds," Lopez said.

"And all those jobs are now delayed for at least two months because the ground has to sit and then has to be tested for a slew of different things to be allowed to be planted again. So now you've got this delay on let's say 25,000 acres in the Salinas Valley.”

Lopez said he feels the best way to support Salinas Valley farmworkers, residents and business owners is to buy Salinas Valley produce for the next year.

“I think the best thing we can do is promote the fact that our industry is here, we do well and we do well by community and part of that is feeding everybody," Lopez said.

"So if you turn over that bag of salad or that head of lettuce on the shelf at the grocery store and see Salinas Valley and maybe see one from somewhere else, choose us for a little help. Help us get out of this.”

Monterey County residents can file for federal assistance through FEMA, but Lopez said recovery work on farms will be filed through the USDA. Right now the county is working with local leaders in the industry like the Farm Bureau of Monterey to assess damage.

Gabriela Fernandez came to KCBX in May of 2022 as a general assignment reporter, and became news director in December of 2023. She graduated from Sacramento State with a BA in Political Science. During her senior year, she interned at CapRadio in their podcast department, and later worked for them as an associate producer on the TahoeLand podcast. When she's not writing or editing news stories, she loves to travel, play tennis and take her 140-lbs dog, Atlas, on long walks by the coast.
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