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.
West Coast Port contract disputes that began 9 months ago continue as dockworkers work without reaching a contract. Extreme congestion at the ports has caused problems such as unloading ships and stoppages, disrupting import and export shipments for agricultural products amongst other sectors. The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) is worried that delays at the ports could eventually lead to gridlock.
At times ships holding perishable produce have been left sitting out on the water while dockworkers demands, including higher pay, are not met. The PMA refused to pay overtime to longshoreman over the President’s day weekend and closed the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports from Thursday February 12th through Monday February 16th. The port of Oakland, the third largest port on the West Coast, has been reported to be unloading only about 75% of what they normally would on a typical day.
The repercussions for the economy could be devastating. California Citrus Mutual is estimating that the port disputes could cost the citrus industry up to $500 million in export loses. California exported over $5 billion in fresh produce and nuts in the last quarter of 2014. Additional costs include the expenses to maintain extended cold storage facilities for apples and the fees imposed on importers due to shipping delays.
During the off season Earl’s Organic brings in fruit such as blueberries, mangos, kiwis and apples from as far away as New Zealand, Chile and Peru. We have felt the effect of these labor disputes as shipments of fruit sit out on the water for as long as 7-10 days after traveling by boat for 2-3 weeks. There have been gaps in supply and some obvious signs of aging from sitting on the water for a long period of time. Growers are reluctant to ship out their product overseas because of its perishable nature. We will continue to monitor the situation and keep you up to date.
What can you expect when you go shopping for blueberries this February? We can expect to see Chilean blueberries through the end of March with sizes decreasing from 6oz packs to 4.4 oz packs. The weather has not presented any particular challenges on the import blues this season but we have seen a decrease in overall volume due to the Chilean grape vine moth. The biggest challenge has been strikes at the ports which can delay the fruit from being released resulting in erratic and irregular arrivals.
California blueberries have started up in Southern California, think Oxnard. Temperatures have been in the low 80’s and blueberries love that heat! We expect supply to increase.
Forbidden blueberries located in Lompoc, CA are a favorite of Earl’s Organic and their outstanding flavor will keep you coming back for more. Sandy, the grower, is expecting the 80 degree weather this week to help bring on the fruit. She lost 1/3 of her plants to the hard freeze on New Year’s Eve. The cold weather pushed the plants back into flowering again and now she is playing catch up. All of her plants are flowering now and we can expect to see her fruit in about a month or so. In order to keep up with the demand for her blueberries Sandy is planning on planting another 2 ½ acres of blueberries this fall.
Don’t miss Earl this weekend on An Organic Conversation as he gives a “What’s In Season” blueberry update. Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone!
The crew from Earl’s Organic came back from EcoFarm 2015 more inspired than ever to be working in the organic field. EcoFarm is the oldest and largest yearly ecological agricultural gathering in the West where over 1,500 people meet to create, maintain and promote healthy, safe and just food farming systems. Located in Pacific Grove, CA with over 60 workshops covering all aspects of ecological farming and food and farmer discussion groups it is hard to choose which ones to attend. Learn more about the EcoFarm experience from the eyes of a few Earl’s employees.
Jessica Cole- Receiving and Quality Control
EcoFarm was a much different experience in comparison to the engineering/technical conferences I have been to in the past. The atmosphere was much more relaxed and I was able to walk the grounds, engage in conversation and attend seminars of my choosing. Everyone I met was incredibly friendly. I was astounded by the willingness and eagerness of people to both explain their interests as well as actively listen to mine – in general it seemed people were there to expand their understanding and increase connections throughout every aspect of the food chain.
The seminar I was most looking forward to attending was titled “Science Supporting Organic and Applied Organic Research Needs” presented by Jessica Shade of The Organic Center and Brise Tencer of Organic Farming Research Foundation. These two ladies were two of the most engaging presenters I have ever seen. They were passionate, knowledgeable and very articulate. It was interesting to see an overview of current studies ranging from soil content to disease susceptibility to nutritional benefits. I was encouraged to hear that there is a push to make grants a possibility, not just through universities, but for anyone so long as the results stay in the public domain. I believe having multiple paths for funding options and recipients will help to diversify the studies being performed and hopefully allow the results to be distributed to a larger audience. And through a cycle of exploration, communication and application an organic, more sustainable food chain becomes better understood and accepted.
Mary Rendon- Sales Associate
I was thoroughly pleased with my overall experience at the conference. One of the most intriguing seminars I attended was “The Dinosaurs rise again”. I was very impressed with the speakers. I know of Rick Lejeune, but not of his history and how he came into the business. It was very inspiring to hear how he started the Santa Cruz cooperative farms. He spoke of his many travels and his start into the family business which is now the logistics part of the organic industry in the LA produce market. Next a gentlemen from Bob Scaman Goodness Greenness spoke and his story was very touching it actually brought tears to my eyes. He thanked Cal-Organic for some advice he was given in the beginning of his lowest times in the business. That really made an impact on his personal life and his integrity and unity of the organic industry. Tom Mello from Amy Kitchen has known Earl for many years and I enjoyed hearing about how he built a great business. Lastly Sibella Kraus from S.A.G.E organization was full of lots of dynamic inspiring stories. She started at Chez Panisse working with Alice Waters and has spoken over the vast years with senators and Prince Charles. She spoke of her many travels, has worked at Greenleaf produce, and is also closely connected to the San Francisco Produce Market.
After working for almost 20 years in the organic industry I felt revitalized with an overwhelming feeling of appreciation for all that we represent to the farmers and the people we work with in every aspect of what we do every day. I also feel a sense of gratitude and loyalty as well. These people represent a presence that will hopefully inspire the youth of today to move forward in the organic business and help to make way for the growing changes on many levels, state wide and globally.
Anthony Mirisciotta- Sales Associate
Overall, EcoFarm was an excellent experience. I left the conference feeling really great about where I am and whom I work with! It was a great orientation for me into the California Ag world. Being from the East Coast produce/farming world I have always had preconceived notions of what the world of California produce/farming was about, so it was absolutely fantastic to see it and hear the stories firsthand. I was most interested in the dinosaurs of produce talk, to dig a little deeper into the history and world of California agriculture. Many great speakers were on the panel, to give a few different angles into the local history. My favorite was Rick Lejeune of Heath and Lejeune out of LA. He had a fabulous story of his start at the UCSC garden on campus and moving onto his attempt at farming with a group of friends in Alabama. He had great pictures that went along every step of his story, and he was a great speaker!
I have attended and even presented at NOFA conferences in New England in the recent past, so I am familiar with events similar to ECO. I would have to say the energy and people at ECO seem much more positive and involved in the past, present and future.
Shane Terry- Quality Control Specialist
EcoFarm was everything I hoped it would be! Farmers, distributors and retailers, all coming together to share their knowledge and passion for the organic farming movement and the industry it’s created. Many of the seminars I sat in on were, of course, educational, but also inspiring and encouraging!
Being a native of Santa Cruz, CA, and now a resident of the East Bay, the organic farming movement and the types of people who champion it are part of my everyday experience, but EcoFarm has helped me better understand how small, dedicated pockets of the world, like my little Santa Cruz, have made waves throughout the food industry. People all across the country are interested in making healthier choices for their bodies and families! People want to make sustainable choices for the planet! People want to buy organic produce! At EcoFarm there is a culture of people both young and old, bringing their ideas together and revolutionizing the way the food industry works, from the field all the way to the checkout line. We’re all proving that we can create a healthy, harmonious utopia here on Earth, and that taking part in that change can be profitable! I left EcoFarm feeling very fortunate that the company I work for and the industry it thrives in are supporting my values and addressing my concerns for the Earth.
Marie Koesnodihardjo- Accounting and Administrative Assistant
One of my favorite seminars from the Eco Farm Conference addressed the issue of sustainability in business. As a graduate of UC Berkeley in Conservation and Resource Studies, I was very curious to hear the conversation about sustainability at the corporate level.
The “What is a B Corp?” seminar included representatives from B Labs (the non-profit entity that certifies companies as B Corps), Veritable Vegetable (a certified B Corp), and a California farmer. I was surprised by how many questions from the audience were focused on the legality of B Corp in terms of ensuring that the values of the company withstand corporate acquisition. Cost was another major issue especially for farmers who see income fluctuations yearly and may not be able to afford the cost of maintaining certification.
In an industry that is already pushing for sustainable alternatives to modern industrialized practices, the conversation about sustainability isn’t whether or not to implement more sustainable practices. The B Corp Assessment is a free tool that allows corporations to assess corporate practices. If cost is an issue, then there is always the option to simply take the assessment and see how your company compares to your competitors.
Most prospective B Corps forget that the value of the certification is in being a part of a network of companies that is changing business as usual. As a recent college graduate, I was particularly drawn to Earl’s Organic Produce because there is a Sustainability Manager position and I felt that my personal values are reflected by the way Earl’s conducts business. While I believe Earl’s Organic Produce doesn’t need a certification to prove our commitment to sustainability and our core values there are many other ways Earl’s can benefit from becoming B Corp certified.
Overall, the Eco Farm conference showed me the range of businesses and people that are involved in the agriculture industry. I appreciated that the conference catered to “dinosaurs” of the industry as well as new farmers. The Asilomar Conference Grounds are a beautiful background for this gathering of people who are so passionate about what they do.
Each and every year Earl invites a new group of employees to join EcoFarm. We can all be inspired by the stories above and look forward to next years conference.
Organicology kicks off today in Portland, Oregon with intensive training sessions, workshops, farm tour, world class speakers and a chance to network with your peers. The four day agriculture conference is a chance to develop your skills in your own area of expertise and provides a chance to gain exposure to the challenges and accomplishments of those in other areas of the trade and movement. Organicology’s mission is to combine the passion for food and agriculture to create a truly unique conference that drives our food system toward a healthier, sustainable future.
Intensive sessions on Thursday give you a deeper understanding of key initiatives. Topics include from growing seed to produce merchandising, to food safety updates, sustainable business models and more. Workshops on Friday are designed to instill, elaborate on and engage the many issues and topics relevant to the organic trade. Saturday is devoted entirely to the Organicology Tradeshow, a gathering of organic producers, farmers, businesses and organizations. This organic exhibition is the network where exhibitors and attendees can unite and connect with each other.
Earl’s has representatives from our Sales and Sustainability department attending. This will be the second year for Katherine Vining, Sustainability and Vendor Compliance Manager to join Organicology. Over the past year Kathy has worked with the Sustainable Food Trade Association to create a formal sustainability program, convene and direct an internal sustainability team, begin to track and record Earl’s Organics’ usage metrics, write Earl’s first annual sustainability report, and manage projects to reduce the environmental impact of our office and warehouse operation. Earl’s Organic has a goal of zero waste by the year 2020. We can look forward to hearing about their Organicology experience in a future blog.
Super Bowl is this Sunday and I plan to make a big batch of guacamole. You need to start with flavorful avocados to make the best tasting guacamole. Buyers need to know that hass avocados are coming out of both Mexico and California with very different flavor profiles. The Mexican avocado is further along in the season and it is more mature piece of fruit with a higher oil content and a rich and creamy flavor. A good indicator of high oil content is a beautiful deep mustard colored flesh around the pit bordered by a deep green ring. Another indicator of a mature piece of fruit is how easily it separates from the pit. An immature or young piece of fruit will cling tightly to the pit and leave pieces of flesh behind.
The California season is just starting up in the San Diego County area. The oil content will be lower and the flesh will be a light green color. For the best tasting piece of fruit we recommend buying Mexican until the California avocado develops a higher oil content.
Avocados do not ripen on the tree. When buying avocados you need to consider the time it takes to ripen before you can make your amazing guacamole. The Mexican avocado will ripen much faster and with less than 4 days left to the Super Bowl this is the best choice. The California avocado could take up to 7 days to ripen and will not be as rich in flavor. To speed up the ripening process put your avocados in a paper bag with an apple. The natural ethylene gas produced from the fruit will help to ripen them quicker. The skin of a ripe hass avocado will turn a darker color and will have a little give when applying gentle pressure. Please share your favorite avocado recipes for Super Bowl Sunday on our Facebook page.
Earl’s is now carrying two new stunning varieties of lettuce from Suzies Farm in San Diego. Established in 2004 Suzie’s family farm is a 140 acre organic farm located thirteen miles south of downtown San Diego.
Beautiful red and green heads of salanova lettuce look like edible lotus flowers. They are harvested when they have grown to full-size heads unlike head lettuce which is harvested while still immature. 20 years in the making, Salanova lettuce has better flavor and texture, and double the shelf life of traditional baby leaf lettuce. The leaves pull away easily from the head to make a quick and delicious salad.
Leopard romaine lettuce is speckled with bursts of dark red color. Small to mid-sized bunches of lettuce flaunt a sweet rich flavor. Their appearance is so spectacular you could even use a bunch or two as an exquisite center piece bouquet.
EcoFarm 2015 in Pacific Grove, CA starts today! The oldest and largest yearly ecological agricultural gathering in the West where over 1,500 people meet to create, maintain and promote healthy, safe and just food farming systems. The conference is also a great chance to network and meet with clients and growers to make plans for the coming year.
Earl’s continues to be a proud sponsor for over 20 years. A large group from Earl’s attends every year including sales associates, buyers, quality assurance and receivers and product selectors. There will be over 60 workshops covering all aspects of ecological farming and food and farmer discussion groups. Today kicks off with “Exploring the Value of Organic Certification”, “Teaching Organic Farming: Resources for Farmer Educators”, “National Organic Update” and “Viva EcoFarm! A Historical Look Back and a Hopeful Look Forward” to name a few. We can look forward to hearing from the Earl’s crew how they were impacted by the seminars they attended.
Tarocco Blood Oranges are sweet and tart with raspberry undertones. It is an Italian variety with thin skin that is easy to peel. The Tarocco is the lightest of all the blood orange varieties and does not have the red blush or deep red flesh that we associate with the Moro variety. In fact you could easily mistake the Tarocco for an orange due to the lack of color.
Earl’s will have the Tarocco for one short week and we anticipate them going fast. We can look forward to a steady stream of Moro’s starting up next week.
We are just starting to see organic California Hass avocados on the scene. The season starts in January/February in San Diego and works its way north as each area of California finishes their harvest and another area begins. The beginning of the year is when the California Hass avo must pass the minimum allowed level of oil content before being picked. This is no way means that the flavor is good nor does it represent the California Hass we have grown to love and appreciate over the year.
The trees are full of fruit and in order to continue to size and produce, the tree needs to be relieved of their burden of fruit to make room for the next more flavorful picking. The oil content will develop as they mature with each harvest. For example, Hass avocados from San Diego will taste the best earliest in the year, think April/May. As the months go on avocados from the central coast and even farther north will develop the high oil content and flavor we expect from a California avocado.
The cycle of maturation, no matter where avocados are grown in the world, means the early crop can have irregular ripening, rubbery texture, low oil and very little flavor. We will have a small quantity of California Hass available now but if you are picking for flavor we recommend the Mexican Hass avocado.
If you are committed to buying a California piece of fruit there are other varieties in season not to be missed. This is not a comprehensive list but are some of our favorites in season now.
Bacon- Oval shaped with shiny thin skin and a light flavored yellow-green flesh. They are easy to peel and the perfect complement to a citrus salad.
Fuerte- Used to be the most popular avocado in the 1950’s. The medium sized pear shaped fruit is easy to peel and has smooth green skin that stays green after ripening. The flesh is a creamy pale green with a light smooth taste that goes well with salads. Think spring mix, fennel and grapefruit.
Zutano- The earliest winter variety. Pear shaped with shiny, yellow-green skin and light tasting flesh. Try cubing it and adding it to tortilla soup on a cold winter night.
Future blogs include understanding how to buy a better tasting avocado by making choices based on seasonality and geography. Each year the timing is different and we will explore how extreme weather can have a major impact on ripening and availability. Continue to follow our blogs as a new year of the California Hass avocado unfolds.