Archive for December, 2011
Patrick Stewart, Earl’s Sales Manager recently spent a week visiting growers in Chile where it’s summer during our winter. Chile lies along the western coast of South America at opposite ends of the equator of the United States and stretches over 2,700 miles long, the equivalent of going from Southern California to British Columbia, Canada. It is never more than 110 miles wide at any point and runs from the world’s most arid desert in the north to the Antarctic Circle in the south. In between, the land passes through forests, mountains, valleys, volcanoes, lakes, glacier fields and a wide range of climate zones. California and Chile have very similar coastal, central valley and mountain climates with a combination of warm and cool seasons. Some farms are agricultural trusts in Chile and protect the land by maintaining the wildlife habitat, building small creeks to divert water to the plants, grow poplar trees to use as windbreaks and flowers for the bees to pollinate.
Patrick flew into the capital of Santiago and then drove 4 hours south to the city of Chillan in the Bio Bio region where organic blueberries, apples and cherries are mainly grown and the rainfall is abundant, temperatures are cooler than in the north and the summer mornings are foggy. First stop was a cherry orchard and as far as the eye could see were rows and rows of cherry trees topped with 3 wires affixed with plastic pulled the length of each row. At any hint of rain the plastic is pulled over the trees to keep the water off of the cherries. If the cherries get wet they are prone to splitting. Cherries are in season from November to December and sometimes into early January.
Next on the road was Agricola Santa Isabel , one of the many apple growers CF Fresh works with in Chile. By training the trees to grow side by side they can grow more apples. Chilean apple picking season begins in February and ends in April. Nico Simian, an energetic Chilean-American agronomist, manages the day-to-day operations of the farm. Nico built a greenhouse as a training ground, to feed his workers and as organic seed bank. The Chileans grow organically mostly for export and not much organic is found locally. The labor force is primarily domestic and the workers either live on or adjacent to the farm. Farming is a lifestyle, not just a job and most workers have their own gardens.
Patrick ended his trip by visiting Rene Beaujanot from South Organic Fruits Chile. Rene is not only an apple grower but part of a larger group that opened their own apple and blueberry grower owned packing shed. CF Fresh has some of their grower apples packed at the SOF shed and also may buy some of the SOF apples.
Blueberries were in the process of being sorted in the shed during Patrick’s visit. Once on a conveyor belt they are moved through a sizer with a minimum size requirement. Anything smaller falls into a collection area below and are usually sold as a processing blueberry for juice, jam or are frozen. The blueberries that make it through the sizer are weighed for clamshell packaging. The machine stops when the right weight is reached and the blueberries are dropped down into the clamshells to be packaged. Blueberries are expensive because the blueberry plant can take 3 to 4 years of maturation before producing fruit along with the cost for international freight. Blueberries will arrive from Chile through March until the season picks up again domestically.
Chile is one of the main countries that supply us during the winter with the fruit we are accustomed to buying all year long. It is nice to know if I want to make a blueberry cobbler in the winter I can!
John Van Diepen, owner and founder of Cedar Mills EcoFarm, died recently in a tragic farm accident. His presence and energy will be missed.
This has been the best Satsuma year Mother Nature has conspired with light rain fall and a good set, meaning the trees are heavy with smaller fruit. The Satsumas are exceptionally sweet and flavorful with a honey essence. Great for a holiday gift, as it is easy to peel with no seeds. Available in 5 lb gift boxes, 10 lb boxes and the new 3 lb netted bags.
As I mentioned in my last Satsuma posting I was making Satsuma-Cello to give out as presents this year. It turned out delicious and it is perfect served chilled in a small glass with some holiday appetizers. Happy Holidays from everyone at Earl’s Organic Produce!
Perfect weather has given us perfect blueberries! Earl’s is well-known for the terrific Forbidden Blueberries, from Lompoc, California, and they are available now. Blueberries are very weather dependent, and so far the season’s great weather of warm days and cool nights has resulted in an early first wave of these delectable treats. These are the only California blueberries that you will see next to the Chilean blueberries that have been available so far this season. Each year the season and volume is a little different and historically we have seen the first blueberries of the season start as early as November or as late as January.
Sandy Newman started Forbidden Fruit Orchards in 2002 and now has over 14,000 blueberry bushes on her 6 acre property. The farm is located about 15 miles from the ocean in Pinot Noir country in northern Santa Barbara County. The soil is very sandy providing excellent drainage and the ability to grow just about anything. Their main crop is southern highbush organic blueberries that produce large, crisp, flavorful berries. These are hybrids of blueberries which grew wild when European settlers first arrived in the New World and were developed to grow in California and other climates with low chill hours. The blueberries grow in hoop houses covered in netting all year to keep out the birds. During the winter overhead irrigation is used to prevent frost. The water is warmer than the cold air and by keeping the water going at a moderate rate it prevents frost from forming on the fruit and leaves.
We will have a limited supply of these blueberries intermittently, depending on the weather so make sure to try them while they’re in.
Robert Lichtenberg, Earl’s Director of Purchasing, recently visited third generation potato farmers Dee Dee and Daniel Chin of Wong Potatoes in Klamath Basin, Southern Oregon, less than an hour from the California border. Since the 1930’s it has been a family run business, growing, packing and shipping potatoes in the United States. The Klamath Basin is ideal for growing all kinds of potatoes including fingerling and russets because of the high elevation of 4,100 feet and ideal soil.
The potatoes are grown on over 500 acres and are packed and stored in dirt inside a partially buried shed. In the cool dirt the potatoes are tricked into thinking they are still buried deep in the ground and will not sprout during storage. When it is time to pack the potatoes, the doors to the shed are opened and a padded tractor loads the potatoes on to a truck. From there the truck dumps the potatoes on to the line where they are sorted. Ultimately the potatoes are put through a pre-wash, sort, wash and rinse before being packed up for delivery.