'Out of the greenhouse and into a dumpster': Flower farmers impacted during coronavirus outbreak

This is a time of uncertainty and challenge for farmers who plan out and plant their crops out months in advance.


"If you can't sell, to be honest, there is really no point in harvesting the flowers. So we are taking the flowers out of the greenhouse and into a dumpster. It's very bleak. It's not nice at all," said Farai Madziva, vice president of sales and chief of staff with Kitayama Brothers Farms.

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing flower farmers to run a skeleton staff; Kitayama Brothers in California is operating with 25% of its crew.

"Can our employees get back to an entity that still exists? They can say we are back home and continue growing," Madziva said. "Most of our employees have been with us for more than 20 years. When you look at that, we are family. Just letting people go and saying goodbye, and when they come back, the family is not there anymore. Those are the concerns; those are the worries; that is what we are trying to preserve."

Flower farmers, although part of the group of essential businesses allowed to stay open in California, are a second tier compared to other essentials.

"Some stores have decided to put less of an emphasis on flowers and use that area to continue to stock food and use the staff that handles flowers to continue to help stock food," said Dave Pruitt, CEO of the California Cut Flowers Commission.

"People are running past the flowers and going after toilet paper is part of the problem, and that was the initial problem. Now the problem has become we can't get it to them even if they want to buy it."

Allowed to stay open but having hardly anywhere to take the business, farmers are strategizing how to best transport their flowers as some truck companies are leaving several local farmers for major companies.

"The grocery stores and the online sales are the only ones that are able to keep us going at this point in time," said Madziva.

This is a time of uncertainty and challenge for farmers who plan and plant their crops months in advance. All eyes are now turning to Easter and Mother's Day sales.

"The question from our production team is, do we keep planting? What is the volume that we should plant? Everything that we are planting now is product that will come in July. We have reduced a very small amount. We are not sure. As farmers, we are always very optimistic," Madziva said.