Organic farms produce food that is high in nutritional value, use less water, replenish soil fertility and do not use pesticides or other toxic chemicals that may get into our food supply or contaminate nearby bodies of water.
In order to maintain their integrity, organic farms have an array of regulations and an extensive accreditation process. There is rising concern about the effect of Oil and Gas activities like fracking can have on organic agriculture.
Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. Water, sand and various chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well. Depending on the types of permits an operation holds, a fracking operation may be allowed to dispose of the waste water created into nearby bodies of water. In other cases leaks simply happen and waste water seeps into surrounding soil or nearby underground water sources.
As of 2015, 11% of organic farms in the United States are within Oil and Gas Regions of Concern (ROC) and the number looks likely to continue increasing.
The five Regions of Concern under most observation are defined as follows:
- Core: Areas where there’s less than 1 mile between fracking wells
- Intermediate: 1-3 miles between fracking wells
- Periphery: 3-5 miles between wells
- Sub-Watershed: 5-10 miles between wells
- Watershed: 10-20 miles between wells
Sharing a watershed with Oil & Gas activity is a concern for a variety of reasons. Such as a complete alteration in soil composition and quality, due to the chemicals being injected. Chemicals like Arsenic, Napthalene (carcinogen in mothballs), formaldehyde (embalming fluid), and Calcium Chloride and many others are in the chemical “cocktails” commonly used in injection wells. These chemicals are also on the USDA’s list of substances prohibited for use in organic crop production. When these substances seep into water supplies or soil they can stay there for decades despite our best reclamation techniques. Wetland soils are particularly vulnerable due to their moisture content and absorbency.
Another fracking concern for soils and landscape is an increase in earthquakes within ROC’s. Ft. Worth, Texas, a region that had seen no seismic activity before disposal wells began operating has had over 60 earthquakes of magnitude 1.5 or greater in the last year according to earthquaketrack.com. Earthquakes of course can cause physical damage to farms and packing facilities leading to loss of product and equipment.
This is all on top of the already existing reports of people and animals getting incredibly sick when exposed to contaminated water within ROC’s. Stories like this do not bode well for organic livestock agriculture.
The effects of fracking on organic agriculture have the potential to be vast and long lasting and certainly warrant close observation.
You can visit websites like fracfocus.org to research what chemicals are being used and what their purpose is.
Memorial Day is less than a week away and corn on the cob is a staple for your holiday party. The California organic corn season starts in May in Thermal, just 25 miles southeast of Palm Springs where the average high in May is 95.7°. In June, production begins to move north to Coalinga, just off Hwy 5, and continues up to Brentwood and Stockton in the Central San Joaquin Valley. Towards the end of the summer we may see some smaller growers north of Sacramento with inconsistent production.
Organic corn is difficult to grow because of a major pest, the corn earworm. We have seen very little evidence of worms this season but if you happen to find a one hiding beneath the corn silk, usually near the top of the ear, it is easy to remove.
How to choose corn without peeling back the husk
- Feel for plump kernels through the husk
- Look for brown and sticky tassels sticking out of the top of the ear. Black or dry tassels mean the corn is old
- A bright green husk is a sign of fresh corn
Earl’s has delicious sweet bi-color corn for your Memorial Day Weekend. Share your recipes on our Facebook page.
Beautiful, bite-sized Forelle pears from Chile are here for a limited time. Slightly bigger than a seckel pear, they average about 2.5-3 inches long. The red speckled skin turns from green to yellow as it ripens. They are ready to eat when the neck of the pear slightly gives to gentle pressure. The flesh is denser than most pears and leaves behind remnants of cinnamon on your tongue. A perfect match for that cheese happy hour, think gruyere and manchego with fresh California table grapes.
Earl’s Organic is rolling in a variety of luscious La Colline mangoes out of Mexico. Take your pick of the Ataulfo, also known as the Honey, Yellow, Baby, Champagne and Manila, Tommy Atkins or the Haden Mango. One of our fruit buyers, Christie Biddle, is currently traveling to Mexico to meet the grower. We can look forward to hearing about her trip next week when she returns.
The small kidney bean shape of the Ataulfo mango and their vibrant golden color makes them easy to spot. Don’t be fooled by their size- the thin pit means more fruit for you to eat. They are packed with fantastic flavor and their smooth flesh means you won’t end up with stringy fibers caught between your teeth. The season runs from March to July. Currently ataulfos are coming out of Mexico but they are also grown in Ecuador and Peru.
Tommy Atkins mangoes are medium to large sized and oval or oblong shaped with a gorgeous red blush covering a background of green, yellow and orange. The flesh is sweet tasting with some fibrous strands. The season runs from March to July and October to January. Currently Tommy Atkins are coming from Mexico but they are also grown in Ecuador and Peru.
Just in, Haden mangoes! Haden’s looks and tastes very similar to a Tommy Atkin. They have a smooth rich sweet taste with very little fibers. The color of the skin is bright red over a yellow and green background with the distinguishing characteristic of small white dots. When ripe they have the most incredible fragrance. They are available in April and May and are sourced mostly from Mexico.
HOW TO TELL IF YOUR MANGO IS READY TO EAT
*Mangoes are ready to eat when the flesh yields to gentle pressure.
*The skin of the Haden mango also turns from green to yellow as it ripens.
The first organic California table grapes of the season have arrived at Earl’s Organic. Grapes come in three colors-red, green and black. The season starts in May out of the Coachella Valley, near Palm Springs and the Salton Sea, with early varieties such as the red flame, fireball and green sugarone. As we move into the warmer summer months the growing areas move north up through the entire San Joaquin Valley, producing the popular seedless green Thompson and red Crimson varieties. Although there is still production out of Mexico we have chosen to only carry local California grapes. California grapes are available for most of the calendar year and can be found through January.
*There are over 80 varieties of table grapes grown in California
*Grapes are considered berries, with an average of 100 berries on a bunch.
California is in the peak of the blueberry season for our Southern and Central California growers. We are starting to see pack sizes increase from 6oz to pints and even extra-large 18oz clamshells. These larger packs reflect the abundant supply of the California blueberry crop. Now is the time to enjoy the bounty of California blueberries! More configurations at the retail level mean more choices for your customer and have been proven to generate more sales. Whether you add them to your morning yogurt, toss them in a fruit salad, eat them fresh out of hand or freeze for smoothies, the ways to devour your blueberries are endless. One of my favorite recipes is for blueberry pie. It is extra delicious served cold with organic heavy cream drizzled on top. Please share your favorite recipes on our Facebook wall.
Every year we wait with bated breath until the stone fruit season begins. This year even though we have already seen a smattering of stone fruit on the market, next week really heralds the arrival of the stone fruit season as we receive our first shipment of Burkart Peaches along with other local growers. If you ever have tasted a Burkart Peach you know how flavorful they are. Richard Burkart grows high-quality organic stone fruit on 65 acres near Dinuba along the northern border of Tulare County about 4 hours south of San Francisco.
What is the difference between a cling stone and free stone peach, between a peach and a nectarine and how do you eat an early season versus late season piece of fruit? Look for the answers and more in upcoming blogs as we explore the many varieties arriving each week at Earls.
Grapefruits have the highest heat requirement of all citrus varieties. They grow best and develop peak flavor early in the season in areas with hot summer climates such as Texas and Florida and parts of California and Arizona. In areas that don’t get the intense summer heat the fruit needs to sit on the tree longer until at least late spring or summer. Organic grapefruits are one of the few domestic citrus that are available for most of the year.
Hyde Ranch, one of Earl’s relatively new citrus growers, is located in the scenic avocado and citrus agriculture area of Pauma Valley in San Diego County, California. Hyde is nestled in the valley and faces beautiful Mt. Palomar State Park, complete with their own observatory. Their citrus season will go on longer than many growers because part of their property sits in the shade. One side lets them start early in the season and the other side of the property allows them to go later as the sun shifts against the hillside in October and November. Just like many areas of California, Pauma Valley has its own micro climate. According to Lance Hyde, “It is amazing. You can take a 2 mile walk and there will be warm belts because of the hills. It literally feels 5 degrees warmer, it is really strange. This is why you see fruit growing on the hillsides.” The hot days and the chilly nights brings out the sugars and color in the fruit. Lance also firmly believes that there is a strong correlation between the rich, dark soil on the ranch and the sweetness of his fruit.
Lance Hyde, like many emerging farmers, did not grow up on a farm or dream of working in agriculture. He was a workaholic for 23 years in the real estate field until he fell sick for a few years. Lance decided it was time for a healthy and organic lifestyle. He became a vegetarian and wanted a new career where he was working in the outdoor air. In 2004 Lance bought an existing 82 acre organic citrus farm with grapefruits and oranges and added lemons and avocados to the mix. He lives on the farm with his wife, parents and 5 kids ranging from 1 to 10 years old.
Lance grows red and pink grapefruits including the Star Ruby and Marsh Ruby. Grapefruits are categorized as either white fleshed or pigmented and the Star Ruby has the deepest color out of all the pigmented varieties. The flesh is a deep red and although they are small for a grapefruit, they are not as acidic as other varieties. The season starts around April and as we get into summer the fruit will become sweeter and less acidic. Lances daughter Mikayla says they are “really sweet and good” and she loves to cut them up into quarters and eat them with a spoon. Look for the Star Ruby grapefruit through May and then they will be back again for a limited appearance in September/October.
In a few weeks the Marsh Grapefruit will be coming on and the season continues through October. A light pink variety with good flavor, it is one of the most popular varieties grown because it holds on the tree for long periods of time, perfect for ripening in areas without high heat. I love adding my grapefruit to a kale salad. Click here for sweet and savory kale with grapefruit and avocado salad.
California blueberries are here and have been for a few weeks now. The recent warm weather has brought on a strong crop out of Southern California. Forbidden Fruit Orchards in Lompoc and Whitney Ranch in Carpinteria are both located in Santa Barbara County near the ocean, where the cool coastal climate with warm days and cool nights produces sweet berries as well as delicious pinot noirs. If the days stay warm blueberries will go well into November and can start up as early as January in the new year.
Many of you have tried Forbidden Fruit Orchard blueberries over the years and know just how delicious they are. Sandy Davis grew up on a farm in Red Bank, New Jersey and went on to graduate from Ag School in with a B.S. and M.S. in Plant Science. In 2003 she bought her first 2 acres which she named her “own piece of heaven”. Twelve years later she has 4 acres and is planning on planting more to keep up with the demand.
Whitney Ranch recently joined Earl’s family of growers. Ralph Whitney is our first grower to participate in the 1964 Olympics for water polo! Ralph and Rachel Whitney moved to California 25 years ago because his fellow water polo friend had property in Santa Barbara. They partnered with their friend and a few other investors to begin growing lemons and avocados in Carpinteria. The ranch is located about 1 mile inland from the ocean in a small valley with very few pests. They have never needed to use any pesticides which made their move to becoming certified organic that much easier. In 1999 they disbanded, took their 10 acres and begin working with a farm advisor to started experimenting with blueberry varieties. Originally they planted 5,000 blueberry bushes on 2.5 acres and now they have 10,000 bushes on 3 acres with some of the original 2001 varieties still producing.
In order to grow blueberries there must be bees. Whitney Ranch has a symbiotic relationship with the almond growers from the central San Joaquin Valley. The almond growers need a place to store their bees during the winter and the Whitney’s need the bees to pollinate their blueberries. Whitney Ranch was abuzz with so many bees that the ranch is now covered in a blanket of blossoms and fruit. The mild weather in Carpinteria allows their blueberries to ripen over a longer period of time and to develop a more complex flavor. When Ralph and Rachel are not growing blueberries they can be found “driving off into the sunset” on their motorcycles or in their motor home.
Buying and storing tips:
Look for firm, dry, plump and smooth skinned berries. The silvery bloom on the outside of the berry is a sign of freshness!
California produced 7,112,515 pounds of organic blueberries in 2014