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Weary but determined, California's small, family-owned farms fight through the pandemic

By Lucas Kwan Peterson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Takikawa is socking away money and bracing for a possible tax bill. "That's a lot of money. That's like my total annual income."

Right now, the 200 or so farm boxes per week that The Garden Of... sells are keeping the business afloat. Restaurant wholesale numbers are recovering, but Takikawa is bracing for a dip this winter. "The real concern is, 'Oh my God. What are we going to do if we have a big spike (in infections) again?,' she said.

"Just let that mask be a way of life and stop thinking about the day when you can take it off." To get through the pandemic, "it's going to take everybody playing the game," she added.

In spite of the difficulty, Takikawa said she's noticed the farming and food community banding together to make it through. ("There are people who will buy that extra box of lettuce.")

"Anybody who has any kind of resiliency or resource has shared it," she said. "Some people go under, and you see that and you can't fix it. But I think people hold together in this kind of crisis."

"If we all don't survive, none of us will," she said.

 

Kong Thao of Thao Family Farm estimates his income is split roughly 60/40 between restaurant sales and table sales at the farmers market, respectively. Breaking that down further, he estimates that he's lost about 70% of his restaurant sales because of COVID-19, and he's doing half of the table sales he used to from the markets because of decreased foot traffic.

And making less than half your usual money doesn't work as a business model. "You can't cut half your costs," he said.

He started doing farm boxes, but he recently stopped, deciding it just wasn't worth it.

"My whole family, we're already overworked," he said. "You're working more and you're really making less."

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