STOCKTON, Calif. — This week Delta asparagus grower Jeff Klein made the difficult decision to not harvest 200 of his 450 acres of asparagus near 8 Mile Road in North Stockton. He watched as a tractor diced through his crop, pushing it back below the soil.
"It's sickening. Sickening," he said. "That's what happens when you don't get your support."
Klein, of Klein Family Farms, said the rising costs of labor outweigh what he could get for his crop on the open market — compared to the growing supply of cheaper asparagus brought in from Mexico.
Klein said only a handful of stores will buy his product, while most big grocery store chains are buying from south of the border.
"When they can buy Mexican asparagus for 50 cents a pound and sell it for $3.99 in the store and make eight times their money, they have no reason to support me," he said.
With two months left in the asparagus harvest season, Klein is cutting it short, literally. His perfectly good Delta Queen brand asparagus is getting chopped-up and tilled under.
As a result, he reluctantly made the decision to lay off 100 of his 200 seasonal workers.
ASPARAGUS FESTIVAL - Still California grown
Despite Delta asparagus disappearing almost for good, the annual San Joaquin Asparagus Festival, set for April 12-14, will still go on.
"It's the people's festival. It's been going on 34 years, started in '85. There's more to it than just asparagus out here, a lot of family fun and entertainment," said Tony Noceti, CEO and President of the Noceti Group - which runs the San Joaquin Asparagus Festival. "Everything that we sell here is California grown."
The asparagus to be sold at the festival was purchased from Klein Family Farms.
But, Jeff Klein said he might not be in the running for the 2020 festival. After 100 years in the business, the Klein family may stop growing the iconic Delta veggie.
"If the retailers want to support me, I will stay in this," Klein said. "If they will sign-up with me and give me a price where I can make my 10 percent and they can make their hundred, that's fine. I'll stay in business."
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