Over the past several months, the world has changed dramatically as we confront an unseen enemy. Despite physical distance and stay-at-home orders, Americans have found new community as together we face uncertainty about what tomorrow may bring.
Even as this pandemic unfolds, we must continue to eat, which means farmers continue to farm. In fact, the federal government declared that farmers and food manufacturers are an essential workforce and a critical part of the national response to COVID-19. Despite the many challenges they currently face, rural America and the nation’s farmers continue to work tirelessly to provide us all with a safe and affordable supply of food.
For the sugarbeet growers who farm in Southern California’s Imperial Valley, harvest must go on.
Southern California sugar growers are unique in that their harvest starts on April 1 and stretches through the summer. They are an essential part of the food supply chain for a significant portion of the Southwest/Pacific markets, as the Imperial Valley growers supply the sugar needs of nearly 7.5 million people who call California home. For perspective, that’s enough sugar to feed the four largest cities in California – Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco – and then some.
“Rural America is not exempt from the anxiety we all feel about the threat that coronavirus poses. However, one thing I am not worried about is America’s food production. I see first-hand every day that agriculture is still moving forward,” sugarbeet grower Suzanne Rutherford said.
“We are thankful for a beautiful sugarbeet crop that, during the next few months’ harvest will again be a driver in our local economy. California sugar will eventually be delivered to our bakery and confectionery customers, and in turn will move as an essential ingredient along the food supply chain to your grocery shelves. Particularly in times like these, I’m proud to be a small but very important part of this supply chain.”
Suzanne and her husband Curt are both multi-generation farmers, whose grandparents arrived in the Imperial Valley at the beginning of the 20th century.
“When we planted sugarbeets here in the Imperial Valley desert last fall, the coronavirus was unheard of. Now, in completely different times, we are ready to begin harvest on April 1, just as we always have,” Curt Rutherford said.
“With the health crisis facing the nation, I feel that the agricultural community will come through and provide a safe, bountiful supply of food and fiber for the nation,” Curt added. “We have millions of Americans depending on our farms and factory to meet their needs.”
Adapting to new challenges is a defining characteristic of rural America and this year’s harvest will be unlike any harvest before as producers take additional measures to protect the health and safety of their growers and workers.
“I’m extremely grateful for a crop to harvest, especially when you consider the recent disaster that happened in other beet growing regions of the United States,” said Von Medearis, President of the California Beet Growers Association. “I feel it’s an honor to be one of the few who can do this.”
Grower Jason Taylor echoed that sentiment, saying, “I feel blessed to do what I do. I really enjoy being able to produce an important part of the American food chain.”
We pray that our beet growers in Southern California have a safe harvest and we are thinking of the farmers all across this country working hard so that we may have the food necessary to nourish our families.
To all of our beet and cane growers, farmers and ranchers, and the essential workers who help bring our food products to market: Thank you for #StillFarming.