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San Diego County Farm Bureau says impact of pandemic on the industry has been 'catastrophic'

Executive director said some cut flower growers saw sales plummet 90% in just a few days.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — The coronavirus pandemic economic impact on the San Diego farming industry has been catastrophic, according to local farmers and the San Diego County Farm Bureau.

"Our retail sales at our farm have gone down," said Frank Hilliker of Hilliker's Ranch Fresh Eggs in Lakeside.

He said business has been tough. The majority of their customers are restaurants which remain closed as the health crisis continues.

"Our food service business is basically non-existent," he said.

According to the San Diego County Farm Bureau, what's happening to his business, is happening to a lot of others in the county.

"Nearly every grower has been affected at some extent," said Executive Director Hannah Gbeh.

"For example, our farmers that were selling to casinos, casinos are closed so all of those sales have disappeared. Farmers selling to schools, the schools are closed, all of those sales disappeared," she added.

She said some cut flower growers saw sales plummet 90% in just a matter of days.

"Generally people think food growers are doing very well right now because of the increase demand, but in reality the markets have completely collapsed," said Gbeh.

Statewide, officials said farmers have seen a 50% drop in demand. On Tuesday Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled a plan to partner farmers and food banks.

RELATED: California scales program connecting farmers and ranchers to food banks

Gbeh said that's already started happening here in San Diego. She continues to urge the public to shop local.

Many farms like Hilliker's continue to sell at farmer's markets. They also offer a drive-thru service at their Lakeside property.

"You don't even have to get out of your car, we'll even put them in your trunk," said Hilliker.

Meanwhile, at the Carlsbad Strawberry Company, they've opened up their warehouse to the public. Customers can shop there for fresh produce, the majority of it is local.

They're also one of many San Diego farms now selling directly to their customers online.

"We started just distributing a few boxes to elderly friends and shut-ins and they loved what we did," said owner Jimmy Ukegawa. "All of a sudden they put it online and boom! It's a separate side business." 

For a complete list of local farmers and where to buy their produce click here.

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