After shopping at the Grand Lake Farmers Market virtually every Saturday for the last seven years, my wife and I have come to genuinely appreciate the benefits of amazingly fresh, pesticide-free produce while expanding our culinary horizons to include some of the more exotic fruit and vegetable varieties. There are, however, other less tangible benefits from our market patronage that I value equally—particularly the development of ongoing friendships with individual vendors and the accompanying realization that the produce we buy is actually sown, cultivated, harvested and sold by real people who work extremely long hours under often trying conditions to put food on our (and their) tables.

This has been a difficult year for many of the people at the Grand Lake Market we now consider friends. The most tragic single event was the suicide of Tip Top Produce’s Laura Trent in September that prompted David Gans to write a moving tribute for the Guardian. In addition, the nationally reported E. coli outbreak put a crimp in sales of spinach and lettuce while a shortage of temporary farm workers began to emerge as a real threat to farm operations.

As I shopped the Market this past weekend, these concerns were very much overshadowed by the prolonged freeze that hit the entire state beginning on January 11. Francisco Berrelleza told me the temperature at his Live Oak Farm (pdf) in the Capay Valley dropped to 22 degrees on three consecutive nights. Alex Nanalis, who grows strawberries at his C.J.J. Farms in Santa Maria, says this was easily the worst freeze he’s seen in seventeen years. Mimi Padilla from Halog Farms told me her parents have been farming for twenty years and this was their worst year ever, as well.

As widely reported in the press, the citrus crop was particularly hard-hit. Juan Ramos estimated that 40 to 50 percent of the Mandarin and navel orange crop at Hamada Farms had been destroyed. At Twin Girls Farms based in Dinuba, Isiah Flores guessed the loss was closer to 75 percent, including very possibly all the oranges that were still on the trees. The statewide citrus losses have driven up prices nationwide. At the Market prior to the freeze, ten-pound bags of oranges were selling from $5 to $7, and at the three booths I checked on Saturday the price was now $10. Although we, as consumers, may have to dig deeper in our pocketbooks for our Vitamin C fix, the increased price will not come close to compensating for the amount of crop losses.

There are other longer-term ramifications for at least some of the citrus growers. The folks at Twin Girl described their efforts to save the acreage of newly planted orange trees—covering as many as possible with plastic bags in the face of the freezing temperatures. But it appears those efforts were largely in vain as almost all were lost.

The freeze also impacted a majority of the other, non-citrus growers at the Market. Becky Botthouse, from Happy Boy Farms, said they saved some of the baby greens they specialize in with “floating grow cover”—a cloth more typically used for insect control. But baby green production was still down 40 percent and they lost much of their butter and “little green” lettuces. The greens on their root crops, including turnips, radishes and beets, withered as well. As a result, they are selling loose beets—equally delicious but not as attractive, and at a reduced price. When asked about an increase in price to compensate for the loss of the baby greens, Becky confided they had only raised that price once in the past seventeen years and wouldn’t do so now.

Other growers expressed a similar intent with minimal, if any, price increases. Francisco Berrelleza from Live Oak pointed out that his prices remained constant although his lettuce and other greens may be smaller in size due to stunted growth. Long term, Live Oak will be hit hardest in April when they typically harvest beets, broccoli and turnips. All those tender seedlings froze. Although they’ve already re-planted some of that acreage, they have no guarantee the seeds will germinate. Mimi Padilla at Halog Farms told a similar story. They lost all of their summer crops originally seeded in October and November, including tomatoes, squash, melons and eggplant. They too have already replanted some of that acreage but, at best, expect the resulting crop to be late and reduced in size. As for the root crops that are already mature, onions, garlic and potatoes should be fine but an unusually high percentage of carrots cracked from excessive moisture and have to be culled out before packaging, since they are viewed as undesirable. The outer leaves on the cabbage they were selling this weekend had to be removed because of freeze damage and the broccoli and fennel was less attractive than usual, but still slightly higher in price.