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San Benito County farmer struggles after flooding

Despite post-rainstorm difficulties, Maria Ines Catalán remains hopeful.
Apples scattered along the fence line. Photo by Juliana Luna.
Apples scattered along the fence line. Photo by Juliana Luna.
Pathway into the farm. Photo by Juliana Luna.

Residents of north San Benito County are still feeling the effects of intense floods that hit the area in early January. Local organic farmer Maria Ines Catalán is among those affected. She finds herself again in limbo, just as she was five years ago when her farm was under flood water. The Catalán Family Farm is again in ruins but is slowly recovering.

“I’m back to the start,” Catalán said.

Catalán, who came from Guerrero, Mexico, is a third-generation agricultural worker. She became the first woman in the U.S. to transition from agricultural worker to owner of an organic farm. The U.S. Department of Agriculture honored Catalán with a Certificate of Appreciation for her organization. Her story, ‘From Farmworker to Farm Owner’ was shared with a live audience in Oakland for TEDx.

The 41-acre farm, which she shares with her son, was damaged by the flooding. Approximately $120,000 of produce such as celery, cabbage and broccoli were destroyed and $300,000 in plants, equipment, vehicles were lost.

“The count is so large and the numbers surprise you,” said Catalán. She is unsure how she can repair or replace two tractors which were damaged by the water. 

The floods also took a toll on her four bee boxes, which she’d had for over two years.

“We had four bee boxes. In two years we had already harvested honey” said Catalán. “And that is what hurts me the most because I have been taking care of my bees for a long time.”

Catalán’s products are delivered to local restaurants and food stands as far away as San Francisco. 

Catalan not only sells what she grows. In 2022 she donated close to 43,000 pounds of her crops to food distribution centers in Hollister.

Catalán set up a GoFundMe page to help clean the field and pay 10 employees of the farm. The land is filled with floodwater and debris, making it difficult to clean up without proper equipment. Piles of apples are scattered around the land with no visible sign of their origin.  

Catalán and her family lost their trailer home and had to evacuate to the Veterans Memorial building. The county is now housing them at the Hollister Migrant Housing Center and will do so until Feb. 28.

Despite the hardships, Catalán remains hopeful thanks to the support she’s received from her youngest son. 

“He is the one who keeps me going, he is the one who encourages me, he sleeps with me when he sees me get sad or cry,” she said. “He tells me ‘Mommy, don’t be sad, don’t cry. We are together.’”

 

 

Related BenitoLink articles:

https://benitolink.com/floods-damage-organic-farm-not-the-drive-to-succeed/ 

https://benitolink.com/veterans-and-community-step-up-to-help-Hollister-evacuees/

 

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Juliana Luna

Juliana Luna is Hollister born and raised. She recently graduated from San Benito High School, 2021. Currently attending Gavilan College where she plans to earn her Business Associate’s Degree to transfer to a four-year university. In her free time, she enjoys exploring Pinnacles National Park, and horse riding.