The 2014 Eco-Farm tour began by driving along the California’s central coast through Monterey and up into the Pajaro Valley near Watsonville, one of the most fertile areas in California. The cool weather of California’s central coast is perfect for growing super succulent artichokes, brassicas, leafy greens and some of the most flavorful strawberries in California. It is no wonder that Salinas is known as the Salad Bowl of California. The black dirt covering most of the area is worth $25,000+ an acre with nothing growing on it. Almost no one owns the land, instead most farmers are leasing the land from long time family farmers.
The tour was led by Amigo Bob of Organic Ad Advisors, Sam Earnshaw of Hedgerows Unlimited and Richard Smith a vegetable crop specialist at the UC Cooperative Extension. This was one of the largest tour groups in Eco-Farm history with over 170 people excited to visit 3 organic farms and an organic food processor.
Our first stop was Prevedelli Farms and we were lucky enough to be the first tour group to ever visit their farm. Sam Lathrop is the son in law of a 4th generation Italian farmer. His wife, son and mother in law are all very involved in the family farm. Prevedelli is a grower, sorter and packer with over 40 varieties of apples, 6 varieties of pears and many varieties of berries including Marionberries, Raspberries, Blackberries and Ollalaberries on 80 acres of organic land.
Their apples are typically picked the first week in July and are kept in cold storage until the beginning of December/January when they are sold out. As we mentioned in a previous blog most California growers will sell all their apples before the Pacific Northwest season starts or keep them in cold storage until they sell out. Prevedelli Farms also makes added value products with any leftover apples and berries including jams, preserves and fruit syrups. I bought myself a delicious bottle of Ollalaberry Fruit Syrup to enjoy over pancakes.
The drought is on every farmers mind and Sam said the drought is really hurting them. Cover crops that are usually 2-3 feet high by now are only about 1 foot. Prevedelli has only 2 wells on site and they are very worried about how the drought will affect their crops. Farmers everywhere are practicing more water saving practices including drip irrigation and digging for more wells. We will address this topic in a future blog.
Our 2nd stop was to Lonely Mountain Farm in Watsonville to meet owner Kenny Baker. Kenny started off working at the UC Santa Cruz Farm and Garden and on a 10 acre flower farm before deciding he wanted to have his own farm. He bought a tractor 4 years ago and leased one acre of land to start. Now he leases 6 acres with his sister and his girlfriend and specializes in heirloom dried beans and tomatoes along with growing many other varieties of vegetables. He hires Happy Girl Kitchen in Pacific Grove to can his left over tomatoes at the end of the season to sell at farmers markets in the winter. Kenny loves the creative freedom that comes with having your own farm but admits it is a lot of work and the learning curve.
Next we visited Live Earth Farm in Watsonville. Tom Broz is also a UCSC Farm and Garden alum and runs Live Earth with his wife Constance. Tom wanted his family to grow up on organic food and connect with nature. His goal was to involve anyone who wanted to know more about where their food came from. Live Earth grows more than 50 crops on 80 acres of land, runs an 800 member CSA and operates a non-profit “Discovery Program” that provides hands-on educational programs focusing on local, organic and sustainable food systems. He has had over 2000 people come through his farm on the discovery program. Tom wants to make people see food as more than just a commodity.
Sam Earnshaw from Wild Farm Alliance helps farmers to build hedgerows to attract beneficial insects and restore wild nature. He took a group of us around Live Earth Farm to show us the many varieties of plants they helped Tom put in including yarrow, California sage, black sage and Christmas Berry.
Our final stop was Happy Girl Kitchen in Pacific Grove, a bakery, café and the last operating cannery in Monterey County. Todd and his wife Jordon were introduced to food preservation while working on a farm in Norway. After farming on the central coast they decided to begin pickling their own line of vegetables. Now Happy Girl Kitchen offers delicious jams, preserves, shrubs, canned heirloom tomatoes, pickles and picked peppers and vegetables. My personal favorites are the pickled zucchini chips, pickled jalapenos and Quince shrub!
They offer year round workshops on what they make in Pacific Grove, San Francisco and in a cool Victorian house in Oakland. In addition they are also co-packers and work with farms that have extra product. As we mentioned earlier they work with Lonely Mt. Farm to can their delicious leftover heirloom tomatoes(pic).
We at Earl’s believe it is important to have a passion for our food, understanding seasonality, the geography of where it is grown and to develop relationships with our growers. Earl is one of the original pioneers in the organic movement and feels it is our role to educate and share our passion for food with consumers and our customers. Earl’s employees eat what we sell and love it. We strive to share our passion through blogs on our website, postings on our social networking sites and by participating in community events. We welcome questions and comments at all times.
Most recently we have been seeing the shiny thin skinned Bacon avocado. The Bacon season for the most part is done but as we know by now there is no official start and end date to a season. We may end up seeing a grower that has one more picking just when we thought the season was over.
The Fuerte Avocado is now coming on strong for the next month or so. The medium sized pear shaped has an easy to peel thin green skin that stays green after ripening. The flesh is a creamy pale green with a light smooth taste that pairs perfectly with a salad.
Along with the Fuertes we will see some overlap with the California Hass as they are “released” or “made oil” as they say in the produce industry. Even though the Hass avocados are allowed to be picked with a low oil content they are not ready to be enjoyed yet. The beginning of the season always yields fruit with low flavor and uneven inconsistent ripening. Growers pick the first crop to thin out the tree, creating more space to allow the next picking to size up. A larger more mature piece of fruit has had time to develop a good flavor which holds great value for both the grower and the end customer.
Interesting Fuerte Facts:
*Fuerte means strong in Spanish because the variety can withstand temperatures as low as 26 degrees
*Fuertes are a cross between a Mexican and Guatemalan species.
*Fuerte was the original California favorite back in the 1950’s and helped to build the avocado industry.
Earl’s Fuertes are coming from various growers in San Diego County which produces 60 percent of all California Avocados, and is the acknowledged avocado capital of the nation. (The California Avocado Commission CAC) Avocados contain Vitamin C and E which is good for the immune system and muscle development and Riboflavin and Niacin aid in digestion and help maintain healthy skin. Avocados taste great and are good for you. What’s not to like?
Earl loves his avocados! Follow us as we continue to update you on the California avocado season. We will let you know what geographic regions the avocados are coming from and when they are at their peak flavor.
In January, the oldest and largest yearly ecological agricultural gathering in the West, the Eco-Farm conference, meets to create, maintain and promote healthy, safe and just food farming systems. Earl’s Organics has been a proud sponsor for 18 years. Over 1,500 people will attend the 3 day conference in beautiful Asilomar, located in Pacific Grove, nestled between Carmel and Monterey off the California coast. Earl’s will have a large group going down for Eco-Farm with plans to attend workshops, network and meet with clients and growers. There will be 60 workshops covering all aspects of ecological farming and food and farmer discussion groups. I will be starting off Eco-Farm with the Farm Tour and learning about organic farming on the central coast. Our stops include the Lonely Mountain Farm, Happy Girl Kitchen Cannery, Live Earth Farm and Prevedelli Farms. I hope to see some of you on the Farm Tour!
Lonely Mountain Farm where UCSC Farm & Garden alumn Kenny Baker is in his 4th year of growing year round veggies on 6 acres of leased ground, with his sister Dawn Sternadell joining him two years ago. The farm is noted for heirloom dry beans and seasonal veggies and sells at local farmers markets.
Happy Girl Kitchen Co., Monterey County’s only operating cannery, preserves local organic foods like citrus, pickles, berries, kraut, and tomatoes. Owner Todd Champagne and staff will offer samples of these and other goodies, serve refreshments, and feature his café, community cannery, and bakery concept.
Live Earth Farm is operated by UCSC Farm & Garden alumni Tom Broz and his wife Constance. They grow more than 50 annual and perennial crops on 75 acres, year round. Their diverse marketing via an 800-member CSA, farmers markets, restaurants, web store, retailers, and wholesalers will be discussed, as well as their vibrant on-farm educational program, now reaching more than 1500 grade school children and at-risk teenagers.
Prevedelli Farms, started in 1945, produces 80 acres of organic fruit including 36 varieties of apples, 5 pear varieties, numerous cane berry varieties and summer veggies. They sell at 15 farmers markets, restaurants, and retailers and make value-added treats. Third generation farmer Sam Lathrop will host and provide samples of late season fruit and jams.
Amigo Bob Cantisano of Organic Ag Advisors, Sam Earnshaw of Hedgerows Unlimited, and Richard Smith of UC Cooperative Extension will lead the tour.
Long after apples and pears are done being harvested in the fall we are still able to enjoy them by keeping them in storage. Apples are separated into two kinds of storage, fresh and CA(Controlled Atmosphere). Keeping them in storage delays the normal ripening and aging process. The more time that passes the sugar, starch and acid content changes, water is lost and the fruit will began to deteriorate.
Most apples you will purchase before the new year are taken from fresh storage where the fruit is put into a chilled cellar or cooler and kept between 32-36 degrees F with high air humidity and some air circulation. You can compare this to storage in your refrigerator at home.
After fresh storage supply runs out, apples and pears are pulled from CA(Controlled Atmosphere) storage. The large, airtight CA rooms vary in size from 10,000 boxes to 100,000 boxes. Apples and pears are stored in airtight coolers where the oxygen level in the air is reduced from the 21% of the air we breathe, to 1 or 2%, usually by the infusion of nitrogen gas. The carbon dioxide level is also increased to slow down the maturation process to a near halt. Temperatures are kept at a consistent 32–36 degrees F with 95 percent humidity. This is a non-chemical process and the exact conditions vary by apple and pear variety, allowing many varieties to be stored into the winter, spring and even summer months. Temperatures are kept at a consistent 32–36 degrees F with 95 percent humidity.
It is really important that the apples and pears are picked at the proper maturity otherwise they will not store well in CA. Apples picked too early or past their maturity will not store well. Growers will test their apples and pears for firmness, skin color, seed color, sugar level and flesh chlorophyll to predict when they mature enough to pick to be stored in CA. Washington law has requirements on exactly how long fruit must be stored in CA to qualify as CA-certified. State inspectors check every lot of fruit as the lot comes off the packing line to make sure the apples meet maturity requirements, the same requirements the U.S. Department of Agriculture uses for apples being exported.
Most California growers choose to get in and out of the market before the Pacific Northwest apple season begins so they are not in competition with the large volume of apples flooding the market. A few California growers will go a little longer, overlapping with the Pacific Northwest supply, by keeping a small amount of apples in cold storage until the supply runs out. Cuyama Orchards, located in the mountainous area of Cuyama in Santa Barbara County, is one of the last California growers with apples in cold storage rooms. We anticipate their supply of Pink Lady’s will run out by early February.
Technology and the sheer volume of apples grown in the Pacific Northwest go hand in hand. As the CA storage technology increased so did the number of apple acres planted. It is no coincidence that there are so many apples grown in the Pacific Northwest, particularly in Washington.
When the apples and pears are brought out of hibernation for packing they will begin to ripen and break down quickly. It is best to enjoy them right away and keep them in your refrigerator until eaten. Once the CA (controlled atmosphere) storage of apples and pears run out, the supplies are augmented by apples and pears from the southern hemisphere until the season starts up again in the fall.
Some of the last varieties coming out of cold storage now include Braeburns, Galas, Fuji and Pink Lady. Two new apples about to come out of cold storage are Enterprise and Empire. Enterprise has red skin and creamy white flesh with a sharp tart flavor that makes it great for cooking and eating out of hand. The Empire has deep maroon red skin overlying a light green background. It is a sweet apple that comes from its parents, Macintosh and Delicious. It has been described as having a hint of melon or pineapple. Stay tuned for updates and photos as soon as they land at Earl’s.
Varietal citrus from Cunningham Farm, located in Southern California, is coming on strong. George Cunningham along with his wife Gail and son Greg have been growing organically for over 30 years. Cunningham Farm is located in a secluded valley next to the Cleveland National Forest between Fallbrook and Temecula in San Diego County. Cunningham Farm grows a number of products including Meyer lemons, Cocktail Grapefruit and Satsuma Mandarins, now available at Earl’s. Coming very soon are Page and Fremont Mandarins followed by Meiwa Kumquats in February and Golden Nugget, Honey and Yosemite Mandarins and Blood Oranges in March. This is the time of year when George is out there harvesting with his crew all of the different citrus that we now have in our warehouse. Don’t miss this opportunity to literally enjoy the fruits of a single family farms labor.
Dates are grown in 2 major areas of the world, the California desert in Coachella near Palm Springs and on the North Coast of Africa, think Egypt, Morocco and Algeria. Both areas had major weather related damage this year creating a massive supply shortage. As a result there was a huge international pull from the California supply, creating an even bigger deficit. This is a prime example of supply and demand. At times we have experienced a challenge in sourcing supply and the consumer will notice a price increase due to the limited amount of California dates.
Pummelos are the largest fruit in the citrus family and are very popular in Asia. Pummelos can weigh up to a few pounds with shapes ranging from tear drop to round. All pummelos have a thick but easy to peel rind but the flesh can be white or pink, sweet or sour and can have a little or a lot of seeds depending on the variety. Pummelos are best recognized by their refreshing, clean citrus fragrance. Turn the pummelo over and smell the blossom end for a strong burst of a citrus scent unlike any other.
In California the Chandler is the most commonly grown variety both commercially and with the home gardener. In 1961 UC Riverside developed the Chandler by crossing the slightly acidic Siamese Pink Pummelo with the Siamese Sweet Pummelo. The Chandler can be as big as a volleyball with a thick rind that needs to be carefully peeled away to reveal the sweet, crisp pink flesh inside. The sweet flavor is well worth the effort it takes to get to the fruit.
Pummelos are so popular for Chinese New Year that a small part of the crop grown in Southern California is specifically for the Asian community in San Francisco and other parts of California. Chinese New Year falls on January 31st this year.
THE PUMMELO CAN BE CUT OPEN AND SEGMENTED IN 4 EASY STEPS
First cut off the top of the pummelo. I recommend making a cut at least half inch deep because the rind is so thick.
Secondly make 4 scores with a knife around the sides of the pummelo so you can easily peel back the rind. Wedge your fingers between the pith and the fruit and gently peel back each segment.
Now the fruit should be easy to remove from the rind. Using your fingers again gently pull the fruit apart like an orange until you have two halves.
Lastly using your hand or a knife peel away the pith surrounding the fruit and separate the segments of fruit.
The Chandler pummelo is picked when the skin is greenish yellow but they have the best flavor when the rind has developed more of a yellow color. Pummelos are related to the grapefruit but they are not as juicy and the segments are best eaten out of hand, in a salad or try adding it to a smoothie. The rinds can be used to make candied pummelo and are sometimes used in Asian cooking.
Normally you will find pummelos in season from early winter to spring all depending on supply and demand and what regions they are coming from. When choosing a pummelo, or any citrus, you want to pick one that is heavy for its size and free of bruising. It should also smell great! I recommend buying a few extra pummelos to put in different areas of your house. The fresh citrus smell acts as a natural air freshener. You can also cut up the rind after peeling it and place it in a bowl in the bathroom. The citrus scent will go on long after the fruit has dried out. Don’t store pummelos out on the counter unless you plan to eat it that day. Pummelos can be stored in the refrigerator for a little over a week. Click here for some delicious and healthy smoothie recipes.
California grape season is officially over and we are now transitioning to Peruvian grapes. This is the first year that organic Fair For Life, grapes from Peru have been available. Fair for Life certified by IMO Switzerland, guarantees fair wages, good working conditions and social responsibility at each and every stage of production and throughout the distribution chain.
Earl’s first shipment of sweet, crisp and flavorful green seedless Sugraone grapes will arrive next Monday and supplies will last for about 3 weeks. Sugraones will be followed by red globe seeded grapes, with exceptional size, color and flavor towards the end of January and will continue for about 2 weeks. For those of you who want to maintain your grape displays now is a great time to make the easy switch.
Earl’s will have grapes from Peru sporadically through March, followed by a small gap before grapes from Mexico arrive in mid-May. The Mexican season could be as short as one or two weeks. As soon as California season starts up at the end of May we will only be buying California grapes. Stay tuned for updates on when the California season starts up again.
Earl’s Organic recently added Las Hermanas Farm in Gilroy to our expanding list of growers. Robert Lichtenberg, Head of Purchasing, Jackie Grindle Veg Buyer and Maeci Brown and Jacob Levy from Quality Control/Receiving visited Las Hermanas to make a connection with the farm’s owner and get a sense of what the young farm was doing in terms of operation. As their small farm grows so will our relationship with the grower.
Gloria Chavez grew up in a family involved in farming for 20 years. In 2011 Gloria, her mom, dad, brother and 2 sisters started their own farm and manage everything from the field to customer sales. They started off small and in just 5 years they have grown to 60 acres. Gloria’s father has always strongly believed in using organic farming methods. Gloria says “it is not only better for consumers, but also for our environment. When we started our own farm, we decided to stick with those practices.”
Jacob and Maeci are relatively new to Earl’s Organic and they felt there was a disconnect between the produce that arrives at Earl’s every day by the pallet and understanding how it is grown. Visiting the farm and seeing the produce in its many different life cycles was eye opening for them both.
At the time of Earl’s visit many of the fields were being prepped for a new crop, including peas to be harvested in the spring. The only items in the ground were green, red bore, and lacinato/dino kale and chard. Unfortunately the chard had been hit pretty hard with California’s recent big freeze. The kale held up very well in the freeze as it is a much hardier plant. One kale plant can be harvested many times because the stalk produces new leaves as it continues to grow. The harvesters wait until the leaves have matured enough and pick from the bottom leaving the new/small leaves on the stalk for the next picking. As the plant gets older it starts to slow down its production. Gloria said they like to experiment with new planting methods and crops.
Earl’s Organic supports employee trips to our growers to create stronger bonds between Earl’s and the grower and their product. Click here to learn more about other farms we work with on our grower map.
Written by Maeci Brown, Jacob Levy and Susan Simitz
What kind of green bumpy fruit is this? Smaller than your average lime, Kaffir limes are covered in bumps and incredibly aromatic. If you rub the lime between the palms of your hand it releases an amazing fragrance. The rind is often used in Lao and Thai curry paste and the leaves from the Kaffir lime tree are used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. The zest pairs well with rum cocktails. The flesh contains very little juice and is considered too acidic to use for cooking, but I personally like to mix the juice from half a kaffir lime and a little zest with hot water and honey on a cold day. Keep a kaffir lime on your desk work. The uplifting fragrance will brighten your day.
Happy New Years from everyone at Earl’s Organic!! We wish you a healthy and happy 2014.