Archive for June, 2016
The good news is that we had more rain this year. Unfortunately 1 out of 6 years of rain does not end a drought. Add the recent California heat wave to the mix and the avocado supply has become depleted. The extreme heat stresses out the trees, causing the stems to shrivel and the fruit to drop before reaching full maturity. The majority of the fruit affected is coming out of the southern growing regions of Temecula and Fallbrook in San Diego County. Our growers are reporting that a good portion of their remaining crop has been lost, tightening up supply and resulting in higher prices. We anticipate having California Hass avocados through July and it will be slim pickings in August.
Over the years we have seen the California Hass avocado season last into September/October but this is the third year in a row the season has ended in July/August. Avocados are heavy water users and need up to 300 gallons a week in hotter weather. Years of drought combined with limited water usage in California all contribute to the season wrapping up extremely early.
We will continue to source avocados as long as possible out of the San Diego and Riverside areas, the first regions of California production. The Southern California avocados have been on the tree longer and are more mature, meaning they ripen quicker, have a higher oil content and should be eaten firm. The remaining supply will be coming from Northern California which starts up production in May/June, think Ventura up to Santa Cruz. This fruit is less mature, ripens later and should be eaten with a little give. To add another layer the Mexican season will start up in August and we will evaluate the fruit at that time.
*You will often find avocados with different levels of maturity in the same display. Be sure to ask your produce person where your avocados are from.
Storage and Eating Tips:
*Store at a moderate temperature of 45-55 degrees. Putting avocados in the coldest part of your refrigerator will “burn them”.
*Black spots that appear in the flesh are caused by storage in cold temperatures so make sure to take the avocado out of the refrigerator to finish ripening.
*Eat firmer than usual and experiment with the ripening time.
We can look forward to the California season starting up again in February out of San Diego. Follow us on social media for produce updates.
June 11, 2016
Written by Ethan Abendroth, National Sales Manager for Earl’s Organic Produce
It was a delightful early summer / late spring day with temperatures in the high 60’s to low 70’s. A slight breeze flitted across La Hermanas’ main 60 acre leased parcel in Hollister, CA as stunt pilots from the local airfield practiced barrel rolls and loop-d-loop over the landscape. The sun shone like only it can across the fertile Salinas valley with high wispy clouds traveling across the sky (or are those vapor trails? Depends on who you ask). In attendance was a nice cross section of Earl’s Organic. (Earl, myself, Patrick from accounting, Jessica and Shane from QI-IC and Fernando from receiving)
Gloria, one of the five sisters and the one in charge of sales first lead us through the brassica and greens field. This 60 acre block is in active rotation. Sub sections of the lot were in various states of production, pre-production and fallow. It was very interesting to see rotation in action. Crop rotation includes cover crops and alternate crop planting in a specific plot. The brassica and greens field had cauliflower, cabbage, cilantro, green and lacinato kales, green, red and rainbow chards, snap and English peas as an experiment and for good measure a few beets. While Las Hermanas does experiment with shoulder crops such as the peas (early to late summer if they take) they are much more comfortable growing what they can do best.
Along the tour we came across Margarito and Jesus, Gloria’s father and brother. Margarito came to the dream of leaving his offspring a legacy and thus Las Hermanas was born. Margarito is in charge of all the cultivation and growing of the crops while Jesus is the irrigation guru on the farm. A very young man at 43 Margarito and Laura his wife have 6 children ranging from 16 to 24. The dream is alive in three of the sisters and Jesus as they all participate in the running of a productive and healthy food system. Jesus just graduated high school and was side by side with his father finishing direct seeding a strip of prepared land. Both of the men had smiles on their faces as pleasantries and salutations were exchanged.
After we parted and regrouped at Las Hermanas’ secondary 20 acre plot just a couple of miles down the road. Here the family has in the ground 9 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, blue lake, purple and yellow wax beans, zucchini, straightneck and crookneck summer squash. The tomato plants were bearing green immature fruit and a bounty of flowers just waiting their turn to produce. Also in the ground was a private stock of some mysterious hot drying pepper for the family’s personal consumption.
Las Hermanas is truly a family affair employing only 8 around the year employees. Whether it be the youngest still in high school without a driver’s license running the tractor through the rows to mom running the packing crews, Las Hermanas is creating some of the finest and prettiest cases of produce to be found in the marketplace.
Sitting at lunch and enjoying a nice meal together in Gilroy, it was very clear this family is building, living and experiencing the organic produce dream. Working the land and bringing sustenance to themselves and the community around them. Future plans involve opening up a family restaurant and as Gloria says “We’ll see – farming is a lot of work – who knows?” Read aboutEarl’s exclusive partnership with Las Hermanas.
Photo Credits: Jessica Cole, QA/IC at Earl’s Organic Produce
Jack and I stood atop the western most ridge of his Goleta ranch, looking over the fields and out towards the ocean. The clouds and fog of this gloomy June day barreled in from the coast, shrouding the hills and valleys that surrounded us. “Does this fog usually burn off?” I ask as we look toward the sky.
“Well, that depends,” Jack says to me, “it could clear up in 5 minutes, a couple hours, or maybe not at all.” As we walk back to Jack’s pickup truck, he stops and says, “I hear next week is going to warm up, with clear skies, so that’s good.”
Before arriving at Ellwood Farms, Just a short drive from highway 101 heading east, away from the Pacific Ocean when I begin to see hand painted signs leading me forward. White signs with red painted letters boldly stand out amongst the backdrop of Chaparral and sandstone hills, leading the way to Ellwood Canyon Farms. Following a rough and winding road past about 5 of the Ellwood signs, I am now driving along the side of a flat 3 acre field with rows of black plastic, raised beds and small pepper plants, I have arrived.
With salty mist covering the windshield, I park amongst rows of farm vehicles, vans and cars and walk following the last painted sign that simply reads “Ellwood Dock,” with an arrow pointing up the hill. I walk past more machinery and vehicles until I arrive at a high roofed, open-air building with a concrete floor and see a young man with chin length, dark hair loading boxes into the back of a truck.
Reaching out to shake my hand, he swipes his hair out of his eyes and says, “Hey man, I’m Wilcox.” We exchange greetings and briefly talk about the weather, and he walks up the hill to get Jack, as I stand and wait.
Standing in dust and dirt covered brown leather boots, green canvas pants and a faded black t-shirt with a single breast pocket stitched with a Carhartt tag, Jack Motter says to me, “Welcome to the farm,” with a smile upon his face.
“Thanks for making the trip down,” Jack says, “Let’s go up to the office and look at some maps of the property and talk before we take the tour.”
Jack comes from a farm family in the Imperial Valley of California, growing a handful of conventional commodities on 2500 acres, sugar beets being one of them. Jack Motter and his business partner, Jeff Kramer have been lifelong friends, both leaving the low deserts of Brawley, CA to relocate to the canyons of Goleta. Jack originally came out to Santa Barbara for college and fell in love with the ocean, surfing and the coastal climate.
The property that “Ellwood Canyon Farms” now sits on is actually in Winchester Canyon, a neighboring canyon to the west. Jack began farming a small plot of land in Ellwood Canyon after graduating college, this is where he got his start in the soils of Santa Barbara County.
“We are farming the climate,” Jack says as we stand over a printed layout of the property. With the steep canyon hills and low flat valleys, the temperature range can vary greatly from top to bottom. It is really about working with the plants and climate and finding what works best.
Jack has over 12 varieties of heirloom tomatoes in the field this season, in addition to handful of roma and cherry tomato varieties. The cloudy and cold weather that they have been experiencing has slowed the fruit down greatly, already delaying their first harvest by a couple of weeks.
“The Berkeley tie dye variety has been the best producer in this weather,” Jack said as we bend down to look at the fruit sets. Some of the other plants have already lost their first set of flowers due to the lack of sun and heat.
“Heirlooms are very susceptible to all disease,” Jack said, “And we have already seen some plants fall to curly beet top disease.” This is a disease that is quite common, and spread from plant-to-plant by the beet leafhopper. It causes the leaves of the plants to curl in on themselves, getting crunchy and brown and eventually succumbing to the disease completely.
Jack has about 5 plantings of heirlooms in succession planted all around the farm. This is his largest year yet and has a lot invested into the success of his tomato crop.
The truck stopped, perched on a hill above the original Ellwood Farm acres as we could peer down and see the lone eucalyptus tree that Jack choose to use in his label.
“What do your parents think about you running off from the family farm to become an organic guy on the coast,” I said to Jack as we sit.
“Originally they thought I was crazy, but they actually have been huge supporters of mine,” Jack said back to me. “They just want me to be successful.”
Jack is patiently waiting for the skies to clear and for the sun to shine upon his fields once again. Ellwood Canyon Farms is currently growing a few crops for the local farmers market and some wholesale, commodities such as zucchini, cucumbers and beets and waiting patiently for the bounty of the upcoming tomato harvest.
This is the story of a young farmer, entirely driven by the passion for organic, product quality and relationships. This is the story reflected in every tomato growing in the soils of Ellwood Canyon Farms, this is the next generation of organic agriculture.
The temperature gauge in my car confirmed the outside temperature as I drove through Paso Robles on this hot spring day. It was in the 90’s, and as I ate my lunch at the rest stop off Highway 101 I gladly went a picnic table under the shade. As I came into San Luis Obispo, the fog created a welcome cooling effect. Another 25 miles South, and I had arrived at my destination – Rancho Don Antonio.
Tony Chavez was waiting for me in his white Lexus at the end of Thompson Street, where his property begins. Wearing a San Francisco 49ers shirt and blue jeans he greeted me with a smile. I hopped in, and we were off.
On Tony’s property, you see blackberries, blackberries, and more blackberries. He has approx. 15 acres of open field blackberries, and about 8 acres that are under hoops. These two different environments, along with pruning the blocks at different times allow him to stage the fruit for year round production. His plan is to increase the amount of acreage under hoops, for more production in the winter. It’s a hefty upfront investment for a grower, but allows for more fruit on the shoulders of the season, where the grower gets their best return.
Photo 1: Blackberry plants under hoops
Photo 2 & 3: Open field blackberries
As we continued on we came across some small raspberry plants. This is a new item for Rancho Don Antonio. The plants you see here will start to produce in a small way in about 6 weeks. He is testing 3 different varieties, to see which do best on his land, and his specific microclimate. This week he will be planting another few acres of raspberries – again, to stage the production and allow for supply over a longer period of time.
Tony also has 3 acres of blueberries that have been producing over the last couple months, and will come back into production in the late fall. He will be planting an additional 3 acres next year, on a piece of land that’s at higher elevation, and should do well in the cooler months as a result. This plot will be under hoops as well. I am standing on that land in the photo taken below, which also gives a nice overview of the property.
Tony rents bees to assist with pollination, check out the hives!
Earl’s Organic is thrilled to supply our customers with Rancho Don Antonio’s fantastic berries year round!
We are excited and proud to announce that Earl’s Organic Produce will be the exclusive distributor of the Las Hermanas label. “This multi-generational organic family farm has been built on quality, consistency and the commitment it takes to grow and ship exceptional produce to market. We are looking forward to continuing to develop and grow this relationship with a long-term partnership,” says Robert Lichtenberg, Director of Purchasing at Earl’s Organic.