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Hope Still Blooms : Cold Snap Damaged Strawberry Crop, but All May Not Be Lost

January 19, 1987|LEONEL SANCHEZ | Times Staff Writer

Last Thursday, John Magarro was predicting that his strawberry fields would bring a gold rush "if the weather is permitting." One day later, some of those golden dreams melted away, as freezing winds killed an estimated 60% of the octogenarian's delicate crop.

But there still is hope for a good harvest at the Magarro family's 250-acre strawberry field in Irvine.

"Friday night's frost killed off all the new blooms and young berries," said John Jr., Magarro's grandson and a foreman on the family farm. "But it's not all lost. It will just put us behind in the market, that's for sure. But we had the mature fruit picked already. We were afraid if we didn't get it in time, the frost would get it."

Although a large chunk of the next cycle of strawberries is gone, John Magarro Jr. predicts that in three to four weeks the farm should be back to normal "just as long as we don't get no more frost."

Warmer Than Usual

The cold spell was the first streak of violent weather this winter, which had been warmer than usual. It was just this unseasonably mild weather that allowed Veronica Valenzuela, 18, to join about 50 other workers in the Magarro's fields nearly two weeks earlier than usual.

Her hands were swollen and blistered from the thorny plants, which ripened early this season, but the pay at $3.75 an hour was good. "In Mexico I went to school. Here I only work," she said.

"This month and last month are usually bad ones 'cause of the weather," said Carlos Carachue, who was picking strawberries last week for the seventh year in a row. "But this year (the weather) has not been that bad, and that is good for me."

But the cold wave dashed some of the farmers' hopes. "Dad went to Phoenix because he was so disgusted with what happened," John Magarro Jr. said Sunday. "But I'm pretty sure it'll be OK, just so long as we don't get no more of those Arctic winds or Santa Ana winds. They even hurt us."

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