News23ABC In-Depth


Agriculture struggles in Kern County

Farmers need to make ends meet.
Posted: 5:00 PM, Mar 22, 2022
Updated: 2022-03-22 21:22:47-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — With more than 250 crops grown locally, the rows of farmland that surround our communities are a staple in Kern County.

March 22 is National Agriculture Day and students in the area went out to the fairgrounds to learn about the ranching and farming process.

But farmers are facing lots of issues right now when it comes to getting that food to your plate.

Many of us don’t think twice about where our food comes from. We simply pick up the foods we like, for example oranges or potatoes down any aisle at the grocery store, but national issues and climate change have brought some challenges to do that.

Bree-Anna Johnson, the Food and Safety Supervisor at Tasteful Selections spent the day teaching kids how potatoes grow.

It seems simple enough, but the issue of water and how much we get is a bit more complicated.

“Water is really hard to get right now, and they just make it harder and harder every time.”

Recently the state water project water supply was reduced from 15% to 5% due to dry conditions.

The Kern County Water Agency Board of Director President in a statement said in part: “A reduction in the allocation is catastrophic and woefully inadequate for Kern County residents, farms and businesses, and it provides little hope for replenishment of groundwater banking reserves that have been tapped to provide agricultural and urban water during previous dry years.”

Still farmers need to make ends meet.

“Potatoes are not super heavy on water, but we do take water to grow them. We even had to move out of state to get higher water rates.”

Johnson said they are not the farmers moving their operations moving out of state, and the lack of water is just one reason.

“This temperature has been so funky lately; it will be hot then it will be cold. We’ll freeze and then it will get really hot, you know so we are struggling with that as well.”

On top of climate change, issues caused by the pandemic are adding to the challenges.

“Prior we were pushing 100 plus trucks a day, now we are lucky if we break 50.”

She’s talking about the trucking industry, which is a key factor of their business as they provide potatoes all across the country.

Aside from the trucker shortage, there is the issue of gas prices.

“Getting potatoes from California to New York, Connecticut or Florida is just extremely expensive right now.”

As they are working through all those challenges, Johnson is happy to see more women break into the industry.

“The average farmer is 57, male, and white, so it is definitely cool to see all of these women here today, you know my partners are all women.”

Kern County students learn about agriculture

After so much was canceled due to the pandemic, students were able to take a special field trip, to learn more about the different animals raised and crops grown in Kern County.

The Kern County Farm Bureau kicked off their farm day in the city event for the first time since COVID began. Although they did not get as many people as they have in the past, those who did come out expressed how nice it was to see a field trip of this scale back again.

“In fact, some of these kids have not had a field trip since first grade, and I am a third-grade teacher. This is really really important for kids to have some context to draw from when we are having conversations in the classroom,” said Elise Heibert.

As a third-grade teacher, Elise Heibert, said the best learning happens through hands-on experience.

That is what kids from second to fourth grade got through exhibits explaining how oranges grow, or how livestock is raised.

“I got to touch a horse and it felt kind of weird, but it felt cool,” said Behrouz Marquez.

This is the second field trip ever for third grader, Behrouz Marquez who shares he was surprised to see how big horses are. He spent his time learning about what crops are most popular here and about livestock, like cows.

“I learned that the most cows that make a bunch of milk are the black and white ones.”

For his mom who took the day off to volunteer, this is something she is glad so many kids can experience.

“Anything that can grow a kid's brain is wonderful, it is wonderful for them and especially the parents here to see it. Makes you want to go on more field trips and do more outdoor stuff,” said Priscilla Rodriguez, Behrouz’s mother.

Even more, kids will get to experience this Wednesday for the second day of farm day in the city. Officials there say hopefully in the next year they get the same level of participants they had pre-pandemic.

23ABC In-Depth

As we celebrate National Agriculture Day across the country, 23ABC is taking an in-depth look at the numbers that illustrate why Kern County is one of the nation's top agricultural producing counties.

To begin with, in 2020, the gross value of Kern's agricultural commodities topped more than $7.6 billion.

The top five items produced that year were grapes, citrus, almonds, pistachios, and milk.

Kern County's produce is purchased all across the globe, some of the top countries of export include China, Mexico, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

Lastly, in Kern County, one in five jobs are related in some way to the agricultural industry.

With the arrival of spring over the weekend, you may be looking to welcome in the new season with green decor. If so, the Buena Vista Edible Schoolyard Garden will be holding their eighth annual plant sale.

You can stop by the school and browse through dozens of fresh veggies, herbs, and flowers to take home.

All proceeds go to supporting the garden and helping kids learn all about plants.

It gets underway next Saturday, April 2 at 9 a.m.