This is a behind the scenes story of Discovering the Economics of Strawberries.

As a born and raised Californian, strawberries have been a constant throughout my life. They are so consistently available and delicious that I never once stopped to think about the industry behind the fruit. When my teammate, Nicole Troy, introduced the idea of covering a student who is conducting research on strawberries, I was immediately interested, not only because I knew very little about where the fruit came from, but because my father had, days before, spoken with the California Strawberry Commission about difficulties they were having selling strawberries. They were looking to launch an ad campaign to try and increase demand for the fruit. Although they did not end up working with my father, this insight guided my approach to the assignment, and certainly sparked my interest in the economics of the strawberry industry.

After Dr. Gerald Holmes, the Cal Poly Strawberry Center Director, told me during our interview that “as a whole, as an industry [sales] could be down as much as 20 to 30 percent,” I realized how serious the economic impacts of the virus were. This was the moment I knew that I had hit on a real story, and that my angle could provide real insight into the impacts of coronavirus.

Nicole took point on interacting with our primary subject Omar Gonzalez Benitez, as she had been introduced to him through a friend and already had a dialogue with him. Our first interview with Omar was my first experience conducting a Zoom interview, and I learned a lot about the format from it. The interview was obscenely long, lasting almost an hour, but it produced all the information we needed to properly report. From then on I made sure to keep my interviews much more concise, as an hour on Zoom is draining for all parties involved.

Nicole was responsible for the video content, and chose to pursue the story with a focus on Omar and his work and life on campus. She quickly encountered the challenges of not having access to the University resources when her personal equipment failed. “My experience doing this project was a challenge but something I learned a lot from. Through the technical difficulties, I was able to learn a lot of workarounds and ways to be flexible when encountering roadblocks. Aside from that, I had a great time learning more about our subject and hearing about how much his life differs from those around me,” said Nicole.

I chose to explore the economics of the Strawberry Center and the industry at large by talking to Dr. Holmes and to Dr. John Lin, a joint employee of the Strawberry Center and the Strawberry Commission. My biggest issue on this project was scheduling these two interviews. Coronavirus has impacted everyone’s schedules dramatically, and finding the time to interview proved challenging.

Nicole and I elected to conduct our KCPR radio interview together. Because of how separate our experiences had been on the project up to that point, we thought it would be nice to support each other for the interview. Nicole did an amazing job preparing us for KCPR, and the interview went off without a hitch.

All in all this project was a great lesson in overcoming the challenges of virtual reporting, and taught me a tremendous amount about the strawberry industry.

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