Archive for March, 2015
Dr. Prasad loved working on the farm even when he was a child in India. He grew up to be a Doctor but his love for agriculture never waned and he continued to farm while practicing medicine in India. When he moved to the United States 45 years ago and eventually settled down in Oxnard, in Southern California. Dr. Prasad had the opportunity to buy a piece of land and MVP Farms was born. Over the years he added additional parcels of land and 10 years ago he converted most of his farm to organic.
MVP is named after Doctor Mummaneni Veema Prasad and his employees call him Doc on a daily basis. Dr. Prasad practices medicine part time and spends the remainder of his time farming on his 188 acres in Fillmore, CA in the beautiful and historic Santa Clara River Valley. A drive along scenic highway 126, only 25 miles from the Pacific Ocean, is packed full of avocado and citrus orchards and produce stands. Doc has 110 acres of organic avocados, 2 ½ acres of organic exotic tropical dragon fruit and passion fruit and the remaining acreage is allocated to organic lemons and avocado orchards transitioning to organic. The orchards are surrounded by hills that naturally protect the avocado trees from the strong Santa Ana winds.
The California Hass avocado season starts up out of the San Diego area usually around the beginning of January. The first fruit harvested is less mature, low in oil content and typically has low flavor. The warm winter brought the season on earlier and we were pleasantly surprised that the California Hass had good flavor right off the bat.
MVP tests their avocados for oil content before they begin harvesting for the season. If the oil content and prices on the market look good they will schedule their first picking. The workers are not allowed to touch the fruit by hand and use clippers to cut each piece of fruit. Tarps are placed under the trees to protect any avocados from touching the ground. The workers put the avocados in a bag and empty them when full into a picking bin parked close by. The picker tools and bins are cleaned daily.
Technology is used on the farm to track traceability and to improve farming methods. Every piece of fruit that is harvested has full traceability back to when it was picked, the block it was picked from and the worker that picked the fruit. As California enters its 4th year of drought, growers are constantly thinking of ways to improve their water usage. Manuel DuBon, MVP’s Farm Operations Manager, uses technology to improve the farm’s irrigation system and measure the water content of the soil.
Look for MVP avocados landing this week at Earl’s. As we head into April avocados coming from the San Diego area are more mature and have developed great flavor. For more information on how fruit maturity affects the oil content and ripening of your avocados click here.
Trivia Question: How many gallons of water does it take to produce 1 pound of avocados?
- 74 gallons
- 20 gallons
- 54 gallons
Answer: If you answered 74 gallons you guessed right!
What makes Earl’s bananas so delicious?
Through our exclusive relationship with Mexican banana grower, Coliman Organic we bring you the freshest, highest quality bananas direct from the farm. Coliman Organic is a family run, environmentally conscious company, with over 50 years of experience growing bananas in the Colima area of Western Mexico. They belong to the ESR- Empresa Socialmente Responsible– program, a self-audited program to ensure honesty and business transparency, quality of life and care and preservation of the environment. ESR is a growing business trend in Mexico and is extending globally.
Coliman Organic picks and processes their bananas within 24 hours of shipping to ensure optimal freshness. The trip from Colima, MX to the US border takes about 3 days and from there it is a short, 2 day truck ride to Earl’s Organic Produce in San Francisco. With a total of only 5 days from the time they are picked until they arrive at our door we are able to provide a fresher, better quality banana to our customers. Bananas coming from South America can take up to 21 days to arrive by boat and are often subjected to an additional 10 day delay as they are processed through the port. The recent West Coast port disputes had created delays of up to 30 days or longer.
Bananas are a perennial herb and each year after the herb flowers and fruits it dies back to its roots. It takes 13 weeks from the time the banana plant starts to flower to the time of harvest. Synthetic fertilizers cannot be used on organic bananas to combat the many pests and insects found in tropical climates. Organic methods include using citrus and oil bases organically approved sprays, removing dead leaves to improve control of insect pests and diseases, picking weeds by hand or removing them with machetes, growing cover crops between bananas trunks, releasing sexual attractants to monitor caterpillars of moths and placing colored sticky traps to delay ant walking, control the cotton mealy bug and to capture white flies and microscopic insects called thrips.
Bananas are picked when they are still green and are then ripened to perfection upon arrival at their destination. Earl’s Organic Produce has the only organic banana ripening facility on the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, giving us complete control over our bananas from grower to the shelves of your local retail store. Our warehouse has 3 banana ripening rooms that allow us to provide consistent ripening and quality to specific customer needs. In the ripening process, natural ethylene gas is introduced to green bananas to trigger the bananas natural ripening progression, converting starches to sugar and slowly changing from green to yellow.
When bananas arrive at Earl’s Organic Produce they are assessed for quality and maturity. Our banana specialists first cut the banana in half to determine the maturity of the banana at harvest. The more mature the banana the faster the ripening process. Quality is checked by analyzing the color of the peel, and the color, firmness and temperature of the pulp. Other factors considered are the flow of starchy latex that seeps out of the cut green banana, crispness of the peel (which will become easier to peel as the fruit ripens) and lastly its fragrance. Bananas are then placed in one of our 3 pressurized banana ripening rooms. Air is forced through the pallets of banana boxes to uniformly control the desired pulp temperatures. When pulp temperatures reach at least 62° ethylene gas is introduced for 24 hours. The temperature is regulated until the desired ripeness is reached. Bananas are extremely sensitive to temperature and need to be monitored closely. Bananas ripen in color stages ranging from all green to yellow with green tips, to all yellow and finally yellow with brown sugar spots.
The taste and texture of a banana is directly related to its stage of ripeness. A riper banana will have a higher sugar level and will taste sweeter with a softer texture. Besides tasting great, a fresher banana ripens more consistently and evenly and holds their beautiful yellow color longer. This means a longer shelf life in your grocery store and on your kitchen counter.
Bananas Are Good For You!
* One banana contains only 110 calories
* No cholesterol
* Full of potassium, vitamins B6 and C
* Healthy carbs give you energy
* Eat before exercising to prevent cramps
Aspiring farmers and farm workers can enroll in a 9 month program with ALBA (Agriculture and Land Based Training Association) to teach them about farm management and organic crop production practices. The program covers the business side of having their own farm and provides practical on hands training with the ultimate goal of growing and selling their own crops. ALBA has two farms in Monterey County on the Central Coast of California. The home ranch and Rural Development Center classroom is in Salinas and the 2nd farm is located in Los Lomas near Watsonville. The program focuses on small farm management, organic farming and sustainable practices. The fee for the program is based on a sliding scale according to income. ALBA receives funding from public and private sources which enables low income applicants to have access to the program.
The first 6 months of the program are mostly in the classroom learning about farm operations and developing a business plan that includes marketing, crop planning, business management, soil and irrigation planning, pest, disease and weed management and profit and loss projection. The last few months of the program are spent on the farm getting hands on practice planting, irrigating, weeding, managing pests, harvesting, packing and taking crops to different markets.
After completing the course the graduates can apply to lease a parcel of land, for up to 5 years, to grow their own crops. They are able to sell their produce however they like but typically they sell it to ALBA. ALBA purchases fresh organic produce from ALBA farmers and regional farmers and distributes to wholesalers, retailers and the food service industry.
The ALBA Farmers come from all walks of life. Previous careers include working in a bakery, harvesting crops in the field, owning a restaurant and attending college just to name a few. One of their current stewards is putting himself through Fresno State by farming on ALBA Land and will graduate in May with a BS in Crop Science. Another young man completed his AA at Hartnell College in Salinas, CA while farming part-time on ALBA Land. Karen Marie Feliz, General Manager for ALBA says “There are too many success stories to list. The sheer fact that this program has been instrumental in improving the quality of life for so many families is very humbling. We have several women farmers too who are equally as strong with awesome farming skills.”
Earl’s is proud to be partnering with ALBA and offering their sweet and juicy strawberries. ALBA farmers started harvesting almost a month early this year because of the unseasonably warm weather. Strawberry season on the Central Coast typically kicks off around mid-March and is steady through September and October. Strawberries thrive in the cooler weather on the Central Coast and if the rain holds off we could get strawberries into November.
Berries are very weather dependent and the ALBA farmers live and die by their weather apps and news to manage their crops, minimize their losses and know when they need to go to market. If a heavy rain is in the forecast they will pick a little early even if that means picking a berry with a little white shoulder. Too much water causes spots to form on the berries which turns to decay. A cold spell can also slow down the crop. The season and size of the crop can vary each year based on the weather.
Don’t miss out on ALBA’s sweet, juicy and local strawberries this season!
Available at Earl’s Organic in a 12×8.8oz pack.
Carrots are grown around the world in temperate regions. In California we can find them all year long. The best tasting carrots are grown in cool weather, which brings out the deep colors and sweet flavor. Most large carrot growers will move their entire operation to different growing regions throughout the year. The transition is based on the weather and can vary year to year. In late winter/early spring from February to April, carrots are grown in the Imperial Valley, extending from the southern area of Coachella, past the Salton Sea and all the way down the border of Mexico. As the Imperial Valley warms up production moves to Bakersfield from May to June. In the middle of the summer Bakersfield is too warm to grow carrots, so production moves from July to October to Cuyama Valley near the Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara County. When the cooler fall months start up production moves back to Bakersfield from November to January. Demand is at its highest at the end of winter and beginning of spring when carrots are used in soups, stews and other comfort food.
Carrots come in all different kinds of colors from deep purple, violet, white, yellow to the most recognizable bright orange. Carrots are classified by their root shape and broken down into four main categories of cultivars. Chantenay carrots are shorter than other cultivars with broad shoulders and a blunt rounded tip. They are used mostly for processing. Danvers carrots are longer than Chantaney types and have a conical shape. They are eaten fresh and used for processing. Imperator carrots have a high sugar content with long and slender roots. They are the classic carrot you find in your local store. Nantes carrots are a deep brilliant orange and are revered in the culinary world for their beautiful cylinder shape (rounded both at the tip and bottom of the root), smooth skin, sweet taste and crunchy texture. They have been described as the “gold standard” for medium sized carrots. Nantes are very fragile and contain almost no core. They are not grown on a large commercial level because they don’t store or ship well and tent to split or crack when machine-harvested. They are the perfect choice for juicing because of their high moisture content and superb flavor.
Earl fed his 3 children only the Nantes variety of carrots when they were kids. Now that they are grown up they won’t eat any other type of carrot because they don’t have the sweet flavor they have come to love.
T&D Willey Farms grows incredibly flavorful Nantes carrots from October to May in Madera, CA, located in the Central San Joaquin Valley. Denesse Willey says that “juicier carrots are grown in the winter.” One of the biggest problems they face is foggy weather which can cause mildew and be a catalyst for disease pressure. The preferred growing conditions for carrots are drier weather. The Willeys plant every 4-7 days and overlap their plantings so they are never out of the market. It takes a few months from planting to the time of harvest. Nantes planted in January will be ready for harvest in April and May.
The Grimmway/Bunny Luv label is one of the largest organic carrot growers in California. They have about 20 different pack sizes including bunched, shredded, baby peeled, cliptop, table, jumbo and juicing carrots. Many are offered in both traditional and rainbow varieties and pack sizes can vary from a dozen to 25 pounds up to 50 pounds.
The best-selling carrot for Bunny Luv is the baby peeled orange carrot. Have you ever wondered, what exactly is a baby carrot? Baby peeled carrots have a smaller core and are grown very close together so they grow long and slender. The carrots are whittled down until the baby carrot is left. The trimmings from the carrot are not wasted. Any extra is used for shredded carrots and the remainder is sent to cattle ranches for feed.
Earl continues the discussion on carrots on this week’s An Organic Conversation radio show. As always you can download the podcast if you miss it live. What is your favorite carrot and how do you like to cook it? Share your favorite recipes on our Facebook page.
Susan’s Favorite Carrot Juice Recipe
Makes 4 cups
*2 bunches of Nantes or rainbow carrots
*10-15 pieces of mixed varieties of seasonal citrus (At this time of year I like Minneolas, Golden Nuggets and Honey Tangerine)
*2 inches of ginger
*2 inches of tumeric