The Little Berry that Could: How Strawberries Contribute to the Vitality of Southern California’s Urban Economy

Annette Levi and Serhat Asci
Annette Levi, PhD, is a professor and agricultural business department chair at Fresno State University (FSU). Serhat Asci, PhD, is an assistant professor and research associate at FSU’s Institute for Food & Agriculture.

While urban and rural California may be miles apart geographically and politically, they could not be more interdependent economically.

That’s what we found with a recent research project that determined nearly $3-billion of Southern California’s urban economy is directly linked to the state’s strawberry farming operations.

Southern California plays a major role in contributing to the success of California strawberry operations, providing a diverse range of related non-farm businesses and jobs in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside and San Diego counties.

The Southland supply chain is made up of dozens of niche businesses that include box and packaging companies, consultants, transportation operations and retail outlets.

Our research found that strawberries and Southern California’s urban economy are strongly linked and benefit one another. We were surprised at the interdependence between rural farming and jobs in such unexpected places as Los Angeles and Orange County.

During the course of our research, we spoke to a family business in Los Angeles that makes more than 75 million plastic clamshells used in the packaging of strawberries. Another – a San Diego County trucking company in Vista – relies on strawberries as a major part of its transport operations.

Commissioned by the California Strawberry Commission, the research report – Southern California Economy: Contributions from the Strawberry Supply Chain – found that more than $2.7 billion in annual revenue generated in those counties from non-farm businesses. Key findings included:

  • A thriving non-farm urban sector creates a wide range of companies involved in retail, processing, packaging, brokering, shipping and other businesses;
  • A diverse workforce includes an equal number of women and men – especially Latinos and Asians – with a wide range of educational backgrounds.

What made this research so unique is that it provides a micro-view of a crop’s supply chain within an urban setting. It has long been assumed that California agriculture has a major ripple effect on the urban economy. This study documents how one crop, strawberries, plays such a major role in supporting non-farm businesses.

When Southern California on-farm revenue is included in the total economic impact to the region, the overall benefit to Southern California climbs to nearly $4 billion.

With the best climate in the world for sustainably growing strawberries, California continues to lead the United States and the world in strawberry production. California strawberry farmers are responsible for nearly 90 percent of U.S. strawberry production.

While our research did specifically not examine social benefits, a $3-billion annual infusion of revenue clearly translates into significant annual tax revenue that supports local, state and regional government services, including funds that support teachers, police and firefighters. Our research suggests that a strong strawberry industry is important to Southern California in many ways.

As California becomes more urbanized and people become increasingly distanced from farming and how their food is grown, this report offers an important reminder that city dwellers and rural residents share vital social and economic connections.

Lawmakers and regulators should keep this in mind when considering polices that could put California farmers out of business.

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