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Financial Troubles Shut Down Suzie's Farm

Financial Troubles Shut Down Suzie's Farm
Financial Troubles Shut Down Suzie's Farm GUEST:Lucia de Alejandro, co-founder, Suzie's Farm

Sandy Aikins came to the Sunflower fields of Susie's farm last Saturday to mark a bittersweet final visit after eight years of providing organic produce farmers markets and restaurants the farm is officially closed. The reason according to the owner the farm was losing money and there seems to be no way to make the farm into a sustainable business. Joining me is Lucia De Alejandro . Welcome to the program. Thank you. You posted a video on Facebook sing the farm was losing five figures a week. Why do you think it was not profitable question mark what were the factors that went into that loss each week? There is so many things. I would like to start always on a positive note by saying we did a lot of things right, but there were some challenges that we had based on our location. One is that we don't own our land. So our farmer friends Dave on their land over many generations so they have that safety or even if they barred against their lands, they've had it for a long time. I think their land costs are lower than what ours were. We leased land from the Navy and our current lease is with the county of San Diego. The other thing is that we are located in San Diego. The city limits of San Diego and as many people will tell you, it is not cheap to live here in San Diego. The cost of living based on what we earn here in San Diego we like to joke that it is a sunshine tax but it is a true thing. The cost of living but the pay is commensurate with what you earn their. That is not true in San Diego. So with our farm workers, we always tried to do the right thing well. We paid health insurance, we offered retirement programs to our farm workers. Many farmers are in a Bear Valley, San Joaquin in different parts of California and they will do piecework and they can subcontract their work. For example, if they have a huge tomato crop that is going to come in they know ahead of time, they can call a contractor who will hire all the staff to come in and do the piecework and they pay their staff or their workers by piece, by the amount of food that they are able to harvest. We never did that. We always had a full-time staff working. We thought it was more human instead of working them no matter what and then they would have to work faster and harder to generate more work. We paid hourly and we paid the same hourly rate that the city of Sandy Lopez. What about the cost of water? The cost of water was probably our biggest thing. We are on city water and we pay municipal rates. So add grades you get a cheaper rate but you have to -- when there is a trial, you are the first one to get cut off. We've always chosen to use the regular municipal rate was about $15,000 a month to water the property. About a year ago you want to show talking about how there were restaurants who were using the farm's name on their menu even though they were not clients are no longer clients are good you think some of that is happening and you think that contributed to the closure? I think it did and people thought that we were very successful and profitable because they could see our name everywhere. They equated success with profit or the -- they equated our success. I think that was really a tribute to it because people came to us and said we are now going to shop with you because you guys are doing well. We are going to shop with other farmers that are small farmers because they need our money and we know that you don't. What you think was the biggest problem that you were not able to solve that maybe would've made the business viable? That is a really hard question to answer. I think that as the word used earlier we tripped and a lot of places. Sometimes you can lose money big and one place like the water, but you can trip lost the money and little places and I think that's what happened to us. What you think the closure means for San Diego, for organic produce and restaurants? We really had a very small percentage of the market and most restaurants are getting their food from wholesalers and they get their food from bigger organic farms. I don't think it's going to affect restaurants and I don't think it will affect CSA going back to be wise they have 2500 people in their CSA. Their bases very loyal. We had a very small base lesson 400 clients. Our partner are currently taking what is left of the food in our field and putting it through their CSA and they have CSA model that is the reason a lot of people end up not choosing our CSA because they didn't like that they could choose what was in the box. You can choose what's in the box. It is the delivery straight to people's homes and they can customize the boxes as her wish. What was the final weekend for you? It was very bittersweet. As I was getting dressed, I was like what will I wear for my last farm tour? The people who came out in majority were people who had never been to the farm. They realized that they waited too long and they had to come now or never. That was bittersweet giving that tour because I wished that they had been able to receive the benefits of what we had to offer for longer. What lessons do you think people should take away from this question mark Don't wait in any aspect of your life. E the desert until the person that you love them, go to see that band, make the change. If you're not happy in some aspect of your life, change it because nothing is forever. What is next for you question mark When you are at the farm tour I kept getting asked that question and I said do you see the section right here of the field it is 3 acres and there's nothing there yet. What would you plant there? I can plan anything I want now. Sometimes that could be scary does it could be anything. The beauty is that my life is bigger and richer now as a result of Suzie's Farm and all the people that I've met. I know that anything that I choose to do will be incredible. I've been speaking with Lucia De Alejandro . Thank you so much. Thank you. It was my joy. Still ahead a couple of the hidden treasures you will find on a California road trip. It is 12:46 PM and you are listening to KPBS Midday Edition.

Suzie's Farm, in the Tijuana River Valley, is closing down after more than eight years in the business of selling organic food.

Started in 2009, the farm eventually grew to 70 acres. It was celebrated for its family events like Strawberry Jam and Pumpkin Palooza. It also sold directly to the public through farmer's markets and its CSA program, which delivered boxes of produce to the customers' homes.

But co-founder Lucia de Alejandro said that their profits never kept pace with their growth. She said the farm has recently been losing "five figures" a week. She made her comments Monday in a Facebook video.


De Alejandro and her husband, Robin Taylor, with whom she co-founded Suzie's Farm, will continue to operate their company, called Sun Grown Organic Distributers.