Tony Chavez, owner of Rancho Don Antonio, began his career in the food industry in 1968 selling fresh tortillas and tortilla chips. Thirty years later he retired in Nipomo, an hour North of Santa Barbara, and bought a cattle ranch. A series of car accidents broke his fence, setting his cattle loose along highway 101, making Tony re-think how he used his land.
Working with consultants from the USDA in 2007, Tony experimented with a new “low chill hour” blackberry variety that allowed him to grow fruit year-round. Chill hours are important because they allow the plant to sleep for a minimum number of hours, which varies by variety, so it can rejuvenate itself and produce a bountiful crop.
Rancho Don Antonio also grows blueberries and is experimenting with varieties of raspberries. “Nipomo has some of the best climates in the United States. It is never too hot or too cold and that is why I can grow berries in the middle of the winter time when no one else can, “says Tony.
Rancho Don Antonio blackberries and blueberries are now available at Earl’s! Always check the Earl’s Organic Produce website for weekly specials and updates throughout the season.
The California blueberry season started off in March with a handful of growers and we are now seeing the first arrivals of the year from Forbidden Fruit Orchards out of Lompoc and Whitney Ranch out of Carpinteria in Santa Barbara County. Located near the ocean, Forbidden and Whitney both benefit from the coastal climate that brings warm days and cool nights, producing outstanding berries. We will continue to see other California blueberry growers come on as we head into May. The California season goes into July and then production will transition up to the Pacific Northwest.
Blueberry update across the country
Earl’s Organic is very California centric but blueberries are also grown commercially in other parts of the country. Oregon, Washington, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina and Washington are the largest blueberry producing states. The Florida season has started up and over 60,000 people joined the Blueberry Festival last weekend in Brooksville, an hour north of Tampa. North Carolina will start harvesting around mid-May with production moving to New Jersey and Michigan in late June and early July.
How to buy
When choosing blueberries look for firm, plump, fragrant, dark blue berries with a dusty white bloom. The white bloom is the blueberry’s natural protection against the sun and is a sign of freshness. Always check the underside of the container for any wet spots or staining. Discard any soft, moldy, or crushed berries. Blueberries make a great frozen snack!
The Burkart stone fruit season is less than a month away. Richard Burkart anticipates the season will have a “normal” start time around mid-May. After a few warm winters and another year of drought California finally experienced a rainy winter with cold nights, allowing the trees to catch their z’s. Fruit trees need anywhere from 100-1000 dormant chill hours each season, depending on variety and age of the tree, to produce a vibrant crop. Chill hours allow the trees to go dormant and get the sleep they need to rejuvenate themselves. Trees, like ourselves need sleep in order function correctly. Even trees can get cranky from lack of sleep.
Richard expects the stone fruit will size up larger this year. In 2014 and in 2015 we saw an increased volume of smaller sized stone fruit in California. Growers blame it on the warm winters, drought and lack of chill hours. Only time will tell how the cold and rainy winter affected this year’s crop. Currently all of the blossoms have fallen off of the trees and the fruit has started to form. Stay tuned for updates from Richard Burkart as we get closer to the start of the stone fruit season.
ORIGINAL STORY BY RYAN MASTERS, SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL POSTED 3/16/16
WATSONVILLE >> In 1977, Dick Peixoto was a young Watsonville farmer struggling to survive to another harvest. The outlook was grim. His fuel company had just cut him off due to an $8,000 debt. Without fuel to run his equipment, Peixoto’s fledgling business would go to seed.
“I was dead in the water until a guy from a local fuel business knocked on my door. He not only offered to sell me the fuel I needed, but he also paid off my debt and gave me 30 days breathing room and manageable terms to repay him,” Peixoto said. “All he wanted in return was my business. I’ve been buying fuel from him for almost 40 years now.”
During the past four decades, Peixoto, 59, has transformed 40-odd acres of conventional green beans into Lakeside Organic Gardens, the largest family owned, solely organic grower-shipper in the U.S. And despite experiencing 20 percent year-over-year growth, Lakeside Organic Gardens can’t come close to fulfilling the massive market demand for its product.
“I’ve been broke twice since I started growing organic. There was a time when I couldn’t even go down to Taco Bell and charge a burrito on my credit card. I understand tough times,” Peixoto said. “People often experience circumstances beyond their control and they need some help.”
In 2015, Peixoto donated $375,000 to 17 local organizations, including Pajaro Valley Shelter Services, CASA of Santa Cruz County, The Salvation Army and Second Harvest Food Bank.
In early January, Peixoto announced that Lakeside Organic Gardens was investing $2 million toward a learning center that could help shape the future or organic and sustainable agriculture.
Neither John nor Paul Sanchez has formal farming experience but they grew up with a love of farming from working in the family garden with their grandfather, mom and dad. John went on to major in ornamental horticulture at Cal Poly under the agricultural program with a strong interest in soil science. Ultimately John chose a career as a landscape contractor and Paul as a general contractor.
It is by accident that the Sanchez Brothers came back to their love of farming. Eight years ago they were looking to buy a piece of land to park their business trucks on. They came across a few acres perfect for their trucks, complete with a hothouse and a barn they could rent. Soon after they bought the property the rental deal fell through and John and Paul were left with an empty hothouse. They remembered how much they loved gardening with their family and eating fresh produce they had helped grow. The Sanchez brothers decided to give farming a go!
John and Paul started off growing heirloom tomatoes for about three years and then moved into green beans and cucumbers. Customers told them “Now this is what a cucumber tastes and smells like!” They wanted a niche market and decided to focus on growing the best quality slicer cucumbers year round. “We work 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, but we love it,” said John with a laugh. When they are not farming they still continue to work as contractors with home offices on the farm.
The hothouse is located on 1 ½ acres in Carpinteria just south of Santa Barbara. “We have the best and the worst of each type of weather,” said John. They are located in a little cove nearer to the mountains than the ocean. This helps them because they don’t get as much fog and it is nice and sunny. The sun passes through the plastic on the rooftop providing light to the plants and helping to heat the inside of the hothouse. The downside is when it gets really windy, it blows up against the hothouses and the strong winds have been known to knock off the roof. Fortunately Paul is a general contractor and can have his crew out there fixing the hothouse when needed.
Sanchez cucumbers will be arriving at Earl’s this week and we can expect to see a year round supply. “We enjoy it here in Carpinteria. We love growing all organic because we want to see healthy bodies,” said John. When they are not working hard the Sanchez Brothers can be found enjoying a refreshing cucumber mojito.
The California navel season is winding down and we are in the last month or so. Late season Washington Navels from Tomorrow’s Organic out of Edison, near Bakersfield, CA will have outstanding flavor for the next 2 weeks. The Washington variety was the first navel imported into the United States from Brazil in 1870. Don’t miss out this extra sweet and juicy fruit!
Fuji apples are still coming out of Washington. Newly released from Controlled Atmosphere rooms(CA) these delicious Fujis were just packed on Monday. Only the best quality apples are chosen to be stored in CA rooms so you can expect good color and flavor. Domestic supply is winding down and prices will reflect that. We can expect import apples to start up in May.
Fair Trade peaches from Divine Flavor in Mexico will be arriving at the end of next week. This will be the best tasting peach south of the border! We expect the season to go through April, just in time for our local stone fruit deal with Burkart Organics to start up.
Sweet Fair Trade mini seedless watermelon from Divine Flavor in Mexico will also be arriving next week following by full sized watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe. The season will go through April.
California grapes are only a month away! Grapes come in three colors-red, green and black. The season starts out of the Coachella Valley, near Palm Springs and the Salton Sea, with early varieties such as the red flame, fireball and green sugarone. California grapes are available for most of the calendar year and can be found through January. There will still be some Mexican grapes on the scene as California starts up. We will be evaluating the flavor and deciding if we want to be part of that deal.
Join us in celebrating Coliman Organic Fair Trade bananas with specials throughout the month of April. 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 the 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.
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. We look forward to sharing the story of Coliman’s Fair Trade Certification and how the Fair Trade premium has changed the lives of the farm workers and their families.
The banana plants are still recovering from hurricane Patricia which wiped out a large portion of Coliman’s crop in Colima, Mexico last October. Additionally new plantings made at that time that are now in the first stage of their production. Both of those circumstances mean that a larger amount of smaller hands are being produced while the fruit continues to mature.
We expect to see the situation improve next week with a greater percentage of larger hands in each box. We’ve gotten through the worst percentage of small fruit and things are looking good from here on out.
We thank you for your continued support of our banana program. Even though in the winter months Mexico produces smaller fruit in their off season, we like to support our grower year round. Importing fruit from South America can be problematic with inconsistencies in quality and supply line.
Covilli Brand Organics might be the first and only grower-shipper that sells ALL their products as 100% ORGANIC and FAIR TRADE, and we are also among the companies with the highest Fair Trade Premium return in their first year of being Fair Trade Certified. This makes us extremely happy, but mostly grateful for all the wonderful companies and consumers that are supporting these efforts.
Fair Trade USA had to establish a brand new premium for 13 of our vegetables, which means that these products were most likely NOT found as Fair Trade in the marketplace. Getting these new premiums delayed our sales ‘take off’ a bit, and we began selling everything as Fair Trade until January 15th. It brings tremendous satisfaction to every one of us at Covilli to report that for the months of January (half of it), February and March the Fair Trade Premium for the farmworkers adds up to $183,000 dollars!
It is indispensable that prior to project suggestion and voting, we apply a survey to our employees to determine which are their most significant needs. Working closely with Fair Trade USA, we are going further and are actually interviewing each one of our workers with a quite extensive questionnaire of over 30 inquiries that cover major topics such as: housing, nutrition, health and education among others, both in their places of origin as well as the town where the farm is located.
Fair Trade USA has established this poll as a requirement, since they know it’s a crucial step to help farmworkers identify and prioritize their necessities – without this information they might, for example, consider a Dental Clinic with several dentists 24/7, but the root problem might just be a high and consistent sugar intake (sodas) and poor dental hygiene habits.
Covilli is investing the necessary time and resources to collect as much information as possible for our workforce to make informed decisions that will hopefully set the foundation for not one, but several projects. The workers are the ones who know what’s best for their own community and therefore they are the ones who decide how and when the Premium will be invested.
We want to thank our conscious consumers who participated in the Covilli March Fair Trade Celebration. Buying products labeled as Fair Trade is an easy way to support the hard-working people who grow the products that you love. At only few extra cents per pound-the Fair Trade Premium-will allow for democratically chosen projects to become a reality in Covilli’s farm worker communities. Although Covilli will be wrapping up their season around the beginning of June we will continue to follow the Fair Trade Committee on their journey.
In the middle of March a group from Earl’s visited Covilli and had the opportunity to interview the Fair Trade Committee as a group. “The boundaries of language seemed to disappear, like watching a captivating movie with subtitles, it had turned into a conversation amongst friends. It was interesting to hear and speak of the meaning of Fair Trade on both sides of the table, to share in our support of this program. I left knowing that I would soon return to see that projects that this program has helped to manifest, and the benefits that will come along with them.” The videos from these interviews are currently being translated and we can look forward to hearing the thoughts of Covilli’s newly formed Fair Trade Committee in a few weeks.
For the last nine years, except for 2012 and 2013, we have enjoyed Forbidden blueberries in March. This is one of those years that the fruit is slow to ripen and size up. “There was a big delay from Thanksgiving to January 1st where the temperatures were so cold that nothing happened for 6 to 7 weeks,” said Sandy Newman, owner of Forbidden Fruit Orchards. “We saw continuous temperatures of 50 degrees during the day and down to 36 at night. The plants just sat there and now we are 6 weeks behind. The rain didn’t help the situation but the clouds hanging on for 3 to 4 days in a row was the real problem.”
The farm is located on 8.5 acres about 15 miles from the ocean in Pinot Noir country in northern Santa Barbara County. The cold pacific air comes right to the property but the 50 foot tall pine trees planted around the fields are natural wind breaks, helping to keep the heat in the fields. Blueberries are weather dependent and they need the sun and heat for ripening. Yesterday was full of sunshine with a high of 69 but Sandy is hoping for an 80 degree heat wave. “We have a great set out there, just waiting to size up and get color, “said Sandy. She estimates that her blueberries will be ready for harvesting in mid-April. Let’s hope for lots of sunshine over the next couple of weeks!
On behalf of The Phillips Family
It is with the greatest sorrow that the family of George Ernest Phillips wishes to announce his untimely death on Sunday, February 21, 2016. George, 72, died suddenly while he was doing what he enjoyed doing most, hiking near his home in the Santa Cruz Mountains. George passed away while looking out at his most loved view of the Santa Cruz Mountains, up above the fog line of the redwoods, upon the peaks off Summit Road, among the Oaks and Manzanita trees, looking towards the Monterey Bay.
Earl’s Organic started our partnership with Grateful Greens in 2012. George was a pleasure to work with and always brought his deliveries of wheatgrass and sprouts with a smile. He relished in his work and always believed that nutrition and a healthier lifestyle are connected. He will be greatly missed by the Earl’s team.
George is survived by his two children, daughter Brittney (Brady) and son Jordan (Susan), and eight grandchildren: Austin, Landon, Kyana, Gavin, Alanakai, Halle, Avery and Mayzie. George is also survived by his brother, Ken Phillips.
To know George was to love George. A business leader, an honest friend, a man of infinite ingenuity, possibility and presence, George was the guy who could be talking to a room full of people and remember everyone’s name on a single pass. The founder and president of Grateful Greens, a company who supplies greens to residential customers, Jamba Juice and many grocery and commercial outlets, George was known for rejoicing in working long hours and finding great satisfaction in a good day’s work. He will be remembered as a man who always gave more than he got, of gentle temperament, and with an eye for quality and detail throughout all facets of his life.
A California native, George graduated from Utah’s Brigham Young University with a degree in Business Administration, moving on to Wall Street, before returning to Santa Barbara in the 60’s. For the next fifty years George’s career was a ladder of success, marked by numerous awards for exemplary salesmanship in the creation and growth of a number of companies, from sales awards at Xerox, culminating in being the National Sales Director of Silicon Valley’s Covalent Systems, he moved through many leadership roles in technology companies in Silicon Valley, before the founding of his own company, Grateful Greens, in the mid 2000’s.
George attacked leisure like he attacked his work. An avid skier, hiker and nature enthusiast, George was at home, whether packing in Mineral King’s peaks and valleys, or Hawaii’s Big Island, or in the coastal mountains near his home. George was always focused on when he could get “back to the Sierra”… the place that shaped him.
His outward presence was one of confidence and stability. His inward nature was about driving to the silence of nature, the possibility of the future, the grounding of what was in front of him in the moment.
When he wasn’t out enjoying nature, George could be found working on his property, which he loved, while listening to albums like “Dark Side of the Moon.”
To talk to his family about George is to learn of a generous man, who above all else, could see the possibility, or even more to the truth, the opportunity, behind every situation. Described regularly as a man who could see both the forest and the trees, George was of a rare character, able to dismiss distraction while tirelessly pursuing a singular vision.
A gathering for family and friends to remember George will be held on Saturday April 2nd in the afternoon. The location and directions to the site will be posted on www.gratefulgreens.com and www.scmemorial.com at later date; please check those sites for the updated information. In lieu of flowers the family asks that you make donations in George’s memory to www.heifer.org.
We’d like to provide assurance that during this time of sadness all Grateful Greens’ business operations are continuing as usual.
Program Manager | Grateful Greens
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