Twenty minutes of hail on Easter Sunday means no melons for July 4th at Pacific Star Garden's farmers' market stall.

Hail comes sometimes, suddenly and randomly, in February or March or April. It can hit one farm but not the one down the road. This time the sudden hail hit Woodland farmers Robert and Debbie Ramming, owners of 40-acre Pacific Star Gardens, on March 31, almost as if Mother Nature couldn't wait for April Fool's day.

Mid-April, in most years, is a good time to visit strawberry farms in the Sacramento Valley for the earliest fresh juicy berries, but 20 minutes of hail put off the start of U-pick strawberry season at Pacific Star Gardens until May. The plants will survive, but damage to the berries and other crops will mean a loss of $5,000 to $10,000 for the Rammings — a big hit for a small-scale farm.

The hail was huge, pea size to marble size, and it came in at a 45 degree angle, hurting Robert's head through his cap. It destroyed the field of strawberries just starting to turn pink and the newly planted cantaloupes and other melons that would have ripened in early July.

Hail also knocked down plants and broke off heads full of flowers in the field of collards planted for seed harvest. Growing seeds for an organic seed company is new this year for the Rammings, so they started with a relatively small patch and will probably only lose a few thousand dollars worth of seed. Twenty minutes was all it took.

Pacific Star Gardens will recover. The next bloom of strawberries will be ripe and ready for U-pick in early May, with apricots and blackberries soon after. The farm is between Davis and Woodland, just off Highway 113. Check the Facebook page for what's ripe and when the farm is open for picking or purchase at the farm stand.

This is a farm story. This is a story of your food. It might make you think a little differently about strawberries, or about hail, or about the farmers at your farmers' market. Most farmers have stories to tell, and most would like the rest of us to understand a little bit about what it takes to grow crops and raise animals. We are lucky to have many opportunities to learn about and experience California farms and ranches.

 

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Many of California's farmers and ranchers welcome the public with farm stands, U-picks, pumpkin patches, tours, festivals, cooking and canning classes, shearing and spinning demonstrations, tasting rooms, farm stays, guest ranches, fishing, hunting clubs, barn dances, outdoor dinners, open houses and a lot more. The University of California hosts an online agritourism directory and calendar, www.calagtour.org, where you can find a farm or ranch to visit. (Listing agritourism operations and events is free for California farmers and ranchers.)

UC is also partnering with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to help Californians explore California farms through a new page on the CDFA website, Discover California Farms. This one-stop portal to agricultural adventure helps visitors find a farm or ranch to visit, locate their closest farmers' market, find a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm that delivers weekly boxes of produce, learn about farm trails, fairs and festivals, or watch videos telling farmers' stories. California farmers and ranchers invite you to visit,taste, learn and enjoy! 

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