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High gas prices hurt Bay Area farmers market vendors

Editor’s note: This story is part of the annual Mosaic Journalism Workshop for Bay Area high school students, a two-week intensive course in journalism. Students in the program report and photograph stories under the guidance of professional journalists.

Daisy Ortiz, a Watsonville farmer, spends lots of time at farmers markets in the Bay Area, where she sells strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.

She visits about eight markets a week, commuting from Watsonville, driving up to two hours to get from one to the other.  With high gas prices, she is now paying close to $800 a week to fuel up her vehicles.

“This morning I pumped $100,” said Ortiz as she served customers at the Saratoga Farmers Market on a recent Saturday.

This year, California surpassed its average price from a year ago by 50% for a gallon of regular. It  is now about $6.40 per gallon, according to the American Automobile Association’s gas price survey. San Jose has also surpassed its average price by 50%  since last year, with a gallon of regular now costing about $6.50.

Ortiz is not the only vendor at local farmers markets who is struggling with increasing gas prices. Transportation is critical to these vendors, as they do not have the luxury of working at home like others do. Products need to be transported from place to place daily in order for business to run, and usually require trucks needing more gas.

Michelle Corrales, who sells sunflowers and potted plants, is also having a tough time.

“I’ve had to increase my prices to just make it,” said Corrales, the owner of Michelle’s Creations, who was selling at the Downtown San Jose Farmers Market on a recent Wednesday.

But Corrales hopes to continue running her business despite recent difficulties.

“My parents started this market over 15 years ago so I’ve been just trying to hang on because it’s a big part of my family,” Corrales said. “But it has been a really big struggle.”

Like Corrales, Ortiz has been forced to increase her produce prices due to rising gas prices. Her strawberries, which used to be $4 per basket, have increased by 25% since 2020. She said she has no choice if she wants to keep her business running.

“We have to eat so I have to be out here. I can’t quit,” Ortiz said.

Jaime Medina of Medina Berry Farms in Watsonville faces the same situation. “If gas prices go up, berry prices go up. Everything goes up in order for me to keep coming” to the farmers markets, said Medina.

Many are now looking to Gov. Gavin Newsom for help. In March, Newsom released a proposal to give California residents $400 rebates for each registered vehicle owned, for up to two cars. But that proposal was dropped because of opposition from lawmakers who said it would benefit the wealthy while leaving out poorer residents who don’t have cars. A compromise proposal is providing  $9.5 billion for rebates to California taxpayers to cover other rising costs.

As a business owner whose farming operation requires multiple vehicles, Ortiz thought the rebate plan would have been helpful to her and her coworkers.  But she did not favor putting income restrictions on who could qualify. “I think it should go to everyone since we’re all spending money on gas,” Ortiz said.

Eryn Gandotra is a rising senior at Santa Clara High School.

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