In an effort to reduce our paper towel consumption, in October we installed electric hand dryers in our bathrooms.
Since their installation, we have reduced our monthly paper towel consumption by
The production of paper requires an enormous amount of energy to cut down trees, transport them to a facility, process them, turn them into paper, and transport the towels to their final destination. In fact, the amount of energy it requires to produce two paper towels is 15 times as much energy as is required to dry one’s hands with Earl’s energy efficient hand dryer model. See the graph below:
That’s like NOT burning 135 GALLONS of gasoline every year.
Image by Yazmin Alanis from the Noun Project
The arrival of shiny crimson red rhubarb is yet another sign that spring has arrived. It is a hearty vegetable that thrives in cooler climates and originally came by way of China, Russia and Mongolia where it was first used as a medicinal herb to treat a variety of illnesses. Rhubarb made its debut in the United States in the late 18th century when Luther Burbank, a world-renowned horticulturist, developed a deep red variety that thrived in much of California’s climate. Rhubarb grows best in the northern regions of the United States. It can be found grown on a commercial level in Oregon, Washington and Michigan. Rhubarb from the Pacific Northwest is all field grown and the season runs from late March until the end of June. The Michigan season begins in April with hothouse grown rhubarb and later moves to field grown.
Rhubarb is very weather dependent and needs a summer temperature of 75° or below for maximum production. Once the temperatures reach 90° or above the plant will start to wilt. Rhubarb is a perennial herb grown from a crown, similar to asparagus, and will continue to produce up to 15 years.
Only eat the leaf stalks or petioles. This is one vegetable where you do not want to use the whole plant. The leaves can grow to be extremely large and due to their high levels of oxalic acid they are considered poisonous.
How to buy
Look for bright red stalks which have a sweet rich flavor. The size of the stalk is not an indicator of tenderness!
Storage and Cooking
Wrap loosely in plastic and store in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Do not keep for more than a few days or it will start to dry out. Rhubarb is very tart and acidic and needs honey or sugar to transform it into a delicious dessert or savory dish. It goes great with seafood, chicken or pork. Everyone has heard of strawberry rhubarb pie but how about a rhubarb shake topped with chopped pistachios? Share your favorite rhubarb recipes on our Facebook page.
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
This is our third and final installment on tropical fruit. Join Earl and the hosts of An Organic Conversation this weekend as they spend a full hour discussing in depth Pineapples, Mangos, Bananas and Cherimoyas.
Organic pineapples are available year round although supply can be affected at times by heavy rains. The main areas of production are the Philippines, Costa Rica, Thailand and Brazil. On the West Coast we mostly get Costa Rican pineapple, as they have year round production, and fantastic quality and flavorful fruit. Mexico typically has some pineapple as well between December and May, although they generally are not as sweet or tasty as the Costa Rican. Hawaiian pineapples are rarely available, although quite desirable and delicious!
The MD2 pineapple is the most commercially produced pineapple variety and made its debut in the mid-1980s in Costa Rica. Chances are, this is what you have been eating when you buy a pineapple. It was developed to be cylindrical in shape, and have exceptional sweetness. Conventional pineapple are often gassed/sprayed to display a yellow exterior. This has nothing to do with the eating quality of flavor profile of the fruit, but makes the consumer think it’s riper and sweeter.
Pineapples are one of the most difficult fruit to tell when they are ripe. We have never been able to find a sure fire way to tell when a pineapple is ripe. In reality it is almost impossible but the best way to tell ripeness is by the fragrant smell at the base of the fruit. Some of the other ways we have found to be true are to look for a bright gold color around the “eyes” at the base of the pineapple. The higher up the golden yellow color goes the more even the flavor will be. Avoid wrinkled skin, a reddish/bronze color and a vinegar smell, all signs the pineapple is over ripe. We would love to hear how you determine if a pineapple is ripe. Post your comments on our Facebook page.
Tips On Storing And Cutting A Pineapple:
Pineapples can be stored on the counter if you plan to eat them within 2 days. We do not recommend storing any tropical fruit under 55 degrees because this can discolor the flesh and affect the flavor. Do not store in the refrigerator because the average temperature is around 38 degrees.
There is no need for a fancy gadget to core your pineapple. Lay the pineapple on its side and cut off the top and bottom with a sharp knife. Slice the rest of the pineapple into rings about 1 inch thick. Lay the rings on the cutting board and using a paring knife gently go around the inside of the skin until the fruit pops out. I like to cut the entire piece of fruit up but if the core is too tough for you it is good frozen and added to a smoothie.
Pineapple do not ripen after they are harvested!
Contrary to popular belief the ease with which leaves can be pulled out is not a sure sign of ripeness.
The small kidney shaped Atualfo Mango and the Kent mango are the two main varieties we see during this time of year. The Atualfo mango has a vibrant yellow golden color and the delicious flavor and absence of stringy fibers make it a huge hit. The pit is very thin which means there is more flesh to eat. As the Ataulfo becomes ripe the skin turns a deep golden color and begins to wrinkle. Ataulfos are ready to eat when the fruit yields to slight pressure. They should be left at room temperature until they are ready to eat. Ataulfos are also known as Honey, Manila, Yellow, Baby and Champagne mangos.
Kent mangos have an almost completely smooth flesh with very little fibers. Kent’s are not covered in the typical red blush we associate with a ripe mango. The outside skin is mostly green and yellow with a little red blush, but don’t let the color throw you off. Kents are absolutely delicious with a vibrant flavor, juicy, smooth and very sweet flesh. Kent mangos will have a yellow undertone with speckled dots as they are ripening. The mango will feel soft to the touch and yield to gentle pressure when ripe. Slight wrinkling of the skin is also a good thing and another sign of ripeness.
The Ataulfo and Kent mangos main production areas are Peru, Mexico and Ecuador. We are just now wrapping up the Peruvian season with the Kent as the main variety. We will have Peruvian Kents for another 2 weeks or so. There was a smaller crop this year compared to last year. Volume is down by about 50% due to early season rains followed by extreme heat in Peru. This year the Peruvian season has also been challenged by strikes at the West Coast ports.
After Peru is done, we start the Mexican season where we travel the months of March to September from Chiapas at the border of Guatemala up to Sinaloa and Baja California in the north. From the many different regions in Mexico we enjoy the Ataulfo, Tommy Atkins, Hadens, Kents and Keitts. September to November we have the spectacular California Keitt. Some people regard this as the best mango of the year. It is grown in Coachella and is a big size fruit with great flavor and aroma. The last mango of the year goes back to South America with Ecuador and the Tommy Atkins, Kent and Ataulfo.
The next variety we can expect in Mid-March is the Tommy Atkins from Mexico. We will continue to explore other varieties as they arrive at Earl’s.
Mangos are the most widely consumed fruit in the world with thousands of cultivars.
This is the second of a three part series on tropical fruit leading up to the An Organic Conversation radio show this weekend, as Earl discusses in depth Cherimoyas, Bananas, Pineapple and Mangoes for the full hour.
Bananas are one of the most popular fruits eaten around the world. Interestingly they are not grown on trees but are a perennial herb. Each year after the herb flowers and fruits it dies back to its roots. What looks like a tree trunk is in fact a flowering stem built out of leaves that are tightly overlapped. New leaves are always growing out of the top, forming a crown. The wind turns these leaves into tattered strips and at the same time protect the stem from being blown over. A large flower will emerge from the stem and the bananas will start to grow back from the flowering tip. The weight of the bananas will eventually cause the stem to bend over so that the fruit is growing up towards the sky. Bunches of bananas or “hands” contain anywhere from 10 to 20 bananas and grow in a double row half way around the stem.
Bananas have been around since at least the 4th century BC in Greece and reached China around AD 200. In the early 19th century bananas were brought to the United States by ship from the Caribbean and were considered a luxury. There are more than 300 known cultivars of bananas but the main variety we see in the US is the Cavendish banana which was developed in the early 20th century for commercial exportation. The other few varieties we can encounter in stores are the Red, manzano (AKA burro banana), baby banana and plantain.
Since they are grown in the tropics, we can enjoy them year round but is also worth considering that because they are grown in high pest pressure growing regions (constant heat and humidity) there is a big difference in the carbon footprint and social impact between conventional and organic production. Add to that the negative consequences of pesticides in the environment and you will not have to think twice about going organic in your bananas. We will discuss how organic banana growers deal with pests in a future blog.
The top five growing regions in the world are India, Uganda, China, Philippines and Ecuador. Most of the bananas you find in the United States are coming from Ecuador, Peru and Mexico. Earl’s Organic has a direct relationship with Coliman, a family run company that has been growing bananas in Mexico since the 1960’s. The Coliman organic bananas will soon be Fair Trade certified. Coliman belongs to the ESR- Empresa Socialmente Responsible- program. ESR is 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 picks, packs and ships by truck to Earl’s within 24 hours of harvest which means we have the absolute freshest bananas. In addition our bananas are not affected by the port disputes which have left many cargo ships waiting on the water to be unloaded. It is estimated it will take up to 2 months for the ports to be back on schedule.
Earl’s is the only organic banana house on the San Francisco Marketplace allowing us to have complete control over our bananas from the grower to when it arrives on the shelves of your local retail store. Our warehouse has 3 banana ripening rooms that allow us to provide consistent ripening and quality for our customers.
Bananas are picked when they are still green and then ripened upon arrival at their destination. Bananas naturally contain ethylene but are gassed with additional natural ethylene to speed up the ripening process, converting starches to sugar and slowly changing from green to yellow.
The average American eats 27 pounds of bananas a year.
Bananas contain vitamin c, potassium and complex carbohydrates which make them the perfect snack on the go. They are easy to digest and I like eating one for a quick snack before my exercise class.
The natural ethylene from tomatoes and apples will help ripen up your banana if you put them in a bag together.
Store your bananas on your kitchen counter and not in the refrigerator.
Don’t throw away too ripe bananas. Peel and freeze them for your next smoothie. No need to add ice when blending frozen fruit.
We will explore mangoes and pineapples in our next blog. If you miss Earl on An Organic Conversation you can always download the podcasts.
This is the first of a three part series on tropical fruit leading up to the An Organic Conversation radio show this weekend, as Earl discusses in depth Cherimoyas, Bananas, Pineapple and Mangoes for the full hour.
Cherimoya’s are originally from Ecuador and Peru but in 1871 they were introduced to California which is still the only place in the United States where Cherimoya’s are grown. They need a subtropical climate to thrive and although they are grown throughout South America they can be found on a commercial scale only in Chile, Spain and California.
Cunningham Organic Farm is located in a secluded valley next to the Cleveland National Forest and midway between Los Angeles and San Diego. George Cunningham, his wife Gale and son Greg from Cunningham Organic Farm grow cherimoyas along with avocados, grapefruit, guavas, kumquats, lemons, limes, macadamias, oranges, passion fruit, persimmons and tangerines. George started off with 10 Cherimoya trees and continued to add more. The trees need to be spaced out because they branch out and can form a canopy in about 7-8 years. The season runs from February to June with the peak time in March and April. Cherimoya’s are grown in California from Santa Barbara all the way down to San Diego.
Cherimoyas are conical or heart shaped with green scales and have been compared to looking a bit like a globe artichoke. A fruit can weigh anywhere from 3 ½ ounces to 5 pounds plus. Cherimoya’s hold a special place in my heart not only because they are delicious but they were an instrumental part of being invited to join the Earl’s Organic team. Upon meeting Earl for the first time he quizzed me on the strange green and bumpy shaped fruit on the kitchen counter. Thanks to my recent trip to Hawaii I knew what the fruit was and that it contains toxic black seeds. I shared that cherimoyas had creamy white flesh that tasted a bit like pineapples and strawberries. My favorite way to eat them is to cut them in half, wrap them up and freeze them until the consistency is like ice cream. Earl declared me “a foodie” and my journey at Earl’s began.
Choosing a Cherimoya
Look for firm, unripe fruit that are heavy for their size and let them ripen at room temperature out of the sunlight. Cherimoyas are similar to avocados and should be treated with care so they don’t bruise. Wait a few days until the flesh yields to gentle pressure and the skin has turned slightly brown. Once you notice the first sign of ripeness wait another day or two to eat but not much longer because the sugars in the flesh will start to ferment. Ripe cherimoyas can be stored in the refrigerator, wrapped in a paper towel for up to 4 days.
Only eat the flesh of the cherimoya! As I mentioned above the black seeds are toxic. They can cause vomiting, nausea, dryness of the mouth, burning in the throat and eating the seeds can cause paralysis that can last up to five hours. Cherimoyas are good for you and full of nutrients including riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin C.
We will explore bananas, pineapples and mangos in our next blogs. We love hearing how you eat Cherimoyas. Please share your thoughts and recipes on our Facebook page.
Spring seems to have arrived early this year. We received our first shipment this week of California grown asparagus from Coastal View Produce. We are proud to have been working with CVP for 9 years. Brian Violini and his family have been growing organic asparagus for over 40 years in the Salinas Valley. Brian’s Grandfather was a Swiss immigrant who started a new life in the fertile Salinas Valley. “I can remember being 10 years old and pulling weeds and moving sprinklers for my grandfather,” says Brian, who now runs Coastal View Produce with his brother. “We’ve had this farm for three generations. My grandfather started with a dairy and then moved into farming. My dad and my uncle ran the farm after him, and now it’s me and my brother. Farming, it’s all we know.”
California produces over 70 percent of the nation’s fresh market asparagus with over 20,000 acres, followed by Michigan and Washington. The height of the season in California runs from March to June. California asparagus is mainly grown at the confluence of California’s two greatest rivers, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin, in the rich peat of the delta lands an hour south of Sacramento. Salinas Valley, the Central Coast, Coachella-Imperial Valley area and Santa Barbara County are also considered prime growing areas. Asparagus was originally planted in the delta region in 1852 but the interest in growing asparagus commercially wasn’t until the early 1900’s.
Asparagus is a perennial crop producing year after year. The crowns are planted in long beds deep in the ground. As the weather warms, a single asparagus spear can grow anywhere from 6 to 10 inches in a single day.
How to store and eat asparagus
Try to eat them as soon as you buy them but you can store them upright in the refrigerator in a dish of water or wrap a damp towel over the ends and store in a plastic bag.
When you’re ready to eat them, snap or cut off the woody white portion of the butt end of the asparagus. They’re perfect coated with olive oil and roasted, which leaves them firmer, nuttier and sweeter than steaming. I also like to peel the larger sizes into thin strips for a raw salad or piled on top of a pizza. Asparagus is high vitamin C and K and folic acid and contain less than 50 calories per 6 oz serving.
Catch Earl this weekend on An Organic Conversation for his update on asparagus, kale and avocados. Learn more about the life cycle of asparagus and how it is picked and packed into beautiful uniformed bunches in a future blog.