STOCKTON (CBS13) — Stockton’s Asparagus Festival is coming up next week, but it could be last time the festival’s featured veggie is grown in the U.S.
Most of the asparagus at next year’s event could be imported from Mexico, that is if one farmer still growing asparagus decides to stop. He’s one of many San Joaquin County farmers who has given up on a crop widely grown and celebrated in the Central Valley.
The San Joaquin Farm Bureau says some 60,000 acres of asparagus were once grown in the Central Valley, but it has been reduced to about 500 acres. The one remaining farmer says he too may stop growing the crop.
Jeff Klein is a fourth-generation farmer in San Joaquin County whose family has grown asparagus for nearly a hundred years.
“It’s a good stretch. I’d hate to see it come to an end, but the only way we’re going to stay in business is if the consumer chooses to buy California,” Klein said.
Klein says the dirt in the delta contributes to the size and flavor of asparagus that cannot be found in Mexico. This year’s crop could be his last because of rising costs and a shortage of labor.
“I’m trying to compete with Mexico where they’re getting $8 a day in their wages, these guys cutting and packing are making almost $200 because that’s what it takes for them to come and cut it,” Klein said.
Over the last year, he said eight other asparagus farmers have moved on to other crops.
“It’s an eerie feeling is what it is. You see the writing on the wall in how many people are out of it,” Klein said.
Luckily for Klein, he said SaveMart saved the day, taking a large volume from his farm. Klein believes his crops were in 40 markets starting Monday. But he says it’s still not enough, and he faces a difficult decision on whether this season will be his last.
“Our intention is to stay in this thing. I want to stay in it. I want these guys to have a job. I don’t want it to be me that quits the asparagus. My family has been doing it for too long,” Klein said.
Klein said he’s giving himself until Wednesday to decide if he’s going to continue his family’s 100-year tradition of growing asparagus in San Joaquin County.