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Tropical Fruit

What better time to talk about tropical fruit than in the middle of citrus season and before stone fruit season starts.  Pineapples, Mangos and Cherimoyas come to the top of our mind. 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. Please post your suggestions on our Facebook.

Organic pineapples are available year round although supply can be affected at times by heavy rains.  The main areas of production are Costa Rica, Mexico and Hawaii.  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 to buy a fancy gadget to remove the core. 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

Cherimoyas are one of my favorite unusual tropical fruits. Cherimoyas are conical or heart shaped green fruit covered in scallops on the surface of the skin.  The flesh is white and creamy and dotted with nickel sized large black seeds. The seeds are toxic so make sure to pick them out!  The California variety flavor has suggestions of mangos, pineapples, banana, papaya, strawberries and vanilla custard. Cherimoyas are grown in California from Santa Barbara all the way down to San Diego.

Look for firm, unripe fruit that are heavy for their size and let them ripen at room temperature out of the sunlight.  Cherimoyas are a delicate tropical fruit and should be treated with care so they don’t bruise. The flesh will yield to gentle pressure and the skin will turn slightly brown as it becomes ripe.  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.  The simplest way to eat a cherimoya is to scoop out the flesh with a spoon but my favorite way is to cut it in half, wrap it in plastic and put it in the freezer. When you scoop it out it is creamy like ice cream. 

cherimoya-cut

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.

Cut ataulfo

Ataulfo

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. The sweet flavor and smooth flesh of the Kent mango makes them worth seeking out.  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.

Kent mangos 2

Kent Mango

For the full story on tropical fruit listen to Earl’s “What’s In Season” update this weekend on An Organic Conversation. The main topic of the show will be “Allergies: What’s Your Reaction?” You can catch all of Earl’s produce updates on the AOC website or by downloading the podcasts on Itunes.

Nagami Kumquat

What citrus is small enough to pop in your mouth?  If you guessed a kumquat you’re correct!

Kumquats are a unique member of the citrus family and are thought to come from China.  The two main varieties of kumquats are the sweet and tart oval shaped Nagami and the sweet round Meiwa.  There are many other varieties of kumquats and hybrid kumquats including the Limequat, Orangequat and Yuzquat. Today let’s take a closer look at the Nagami kumquat.

The versatile bite sized Nagami kumquat is small and fun to eat.  They don’t need to be peeled which makes them perfect for snacking.  Their sweet flavor comes from the rind and the tartness is in the flesh. The inch long Nagami is completely edible including the seeds.  You are in for a powerful sensory experience as the ZING of the sourness hits your taste buds and your mouth puckers up.

Nagami heart cropped

Nagami heart

 

How to eat a kumquat:

Let the fruit come to room temperature and then gently rub the kumquat between the palms of your hand to get the juices and oil going, releasing the amazing citrus fragrance. Pop them in your mouth and enjoy!

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Christie, Susan and Kathy rub kumquats between their hands.

 

My new favorite way to eat them this year is to slice them up and add them to a quinoa salad made with yogurt and your favorite veggies. Put the filling in a toasted wheat pita and you have a healthy lunch.

Kumquats can be hard to find at times but worth searching out. California leads the nation in production.  Northern San Diego County is where many farms focus on specialty crops such as kumquats but they can be found growing as far north as Placerville, north of Sacramento.

Nagami kumquats will be special the week of March 3rd. Get them while they are in season!

Murcott Update

Remember that freeze back in December?  Here is another chapter in the ongoing story.  Some of the areas hit hardest by the freeze were Fresno and Kern Counties in the San Joaquin Valley.  Unfortunately freeze damage is not always apparent right away and sometimes it takes weeks for the damage to show up. The freezing cold weather causes the liquid inside the cells of the fruit to freeze, cracking the cells and drying out the piece of fruit leaving it with little juice and poor flavor. The fruit that survived the freeze has a beautiful orange peel and is juicy with a rich, sweet flavor.

As the weather continues to warm up, Rick Schellenberg from Schellenberg Farms in Reedley, Fresno County has begun to distinguish the damaged fruit from the good fruit. Rick looks for three main items when separating the bad from the good fruit:

  • Indentations in the skin indicating dehydration.
  • Ice marks that form on the outside of the fruit leave rough spots and scratches. This could mean internal damage.
  • A dried out cavity. He tests for this by gently applying pressure to the fruit and looking for give in some areas and not in others.

 

Rick waited over a month to let the fruit dry out after the damage had been done.  His next step is to use a sorting machine to separate out the bad fruit.  An infrared light looks through the fruit and distinguishes if there is consistent moisture present, indicating a good piece of fruit. The problem is that there could still be 100% moisture content showing up on the machine for a piece of fruit with a damaged cavity that hasn’t dried out completely.  Sorting the fruit will be a struggle and time consuming process, delaying the start of his Murcotts by at least a week or two. We can expect to receive our first Schellenberg Murcott shipment sometime in early March.

Murcott Tangerine

Murcott

Buyers should be aware that this sorting process is not 100% fool proof and there is a possibility that some of the damaged pieces of fruit could slip through the cracks. Avoid uneven puffy fruit that is firm on one side and soft on the other.  A good piece of fruit should feel heavy for its size which means it is full of juice. I bought a case of mandarins last week and when I was juicing them I noticed one piece of fruit that was as light as a feather with puffy skin that sunk in when I applied pressure.  I was not surprised when I peeled it open and the fruit was completely dried out. The rest of the case was simply delicious and I continue to enjoy a fresh glass of juice each morning.

Continue to follow our website and Facebook for an announcement on when the Murcotts officially arrived at Earl’s.

Fremont Tangerines

Fremont Tangerines are actually Mandarins and are a cross between a sweet, rich and aromatic Clementine and a mildly sweet and aromatic Ponkan mandarin.  Slices of the Fremont Tangerine decorated Earl’s Kitchen table this morning.

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Earl’s employees described the Fremont as having a “well-balanced sweet and tangy flavor”, “deep orange citrus flavor” and “mildly sweet, juicy and refreshing.”  Fruit can vary in size from small to medium, usually contains seeds and is very easy to peel. The season will continue into early spring this year because the lack of rain has caused the fruit to size up slower and be harvested later.

Fremonts are perfect eaten out of hand but also pair well with sweet and savory dishes like an Apple Avocado salad with tangerine dressing, Thai Beef with a Tangerine Sauce and for dessert substitute Fremont Tangerine juice for lemons in this delicious muffin recipe.

 

Off Season Berries

It has been an interesting off season for berries on the West Coast.  Usually the cold winter weather knocks out the berries around November but this year there was no interruption due to the mild coastal temperatures and low rainfall in Mexico’s Baja region and Oxnard, Ca. This year’s drought produced the largest “off” early season ever.

Strawberries hardly stopped production and continue to be in good supply. Raspberries don’t have much acreage planted so that supply is always tight and imports are scarce.

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Blueberries had some drama as the Chilean blueberries had certain growing areas affected by the European Grapevine Moth and required fumigation, eliminating those berries from being sold as organic. The moth is considered a threat to the U.S. crops and all efforts are being made to prevent it from spreading. Typically the Chilean blueberry crop ends at the end of March but we anticipate it ending a month early this year.

Blueberries350

The domestic blueberry crop has grown in winter and early spring as hoop tunnel cultivation in micro-climates has expanded.  There were a sufficient supply of blueberries that survived the early December freeze with reasonable prices. That winter production is waning now but late April will herald the next summer crop.

Catch Earl’s “What’s In Season” this weekend on An Organic Conversation with a full update on off season berries.  The main topic of the show is “Camino de Santiago: A Walk to Remember”.  If you miss the weekend radio show you can always download the podcast.

Tango Mandarin

NEW at Earl’s! The Tango Mandarin is the offspring of the late variety W. Murcott, with the same flavor profile but seedless. The Tango like the Murcott has thin fragrant golden orange pebbled skin which is fairly easy to peel. The flesh is bright orange, rich, juicy and sweet. It is the perfect juicing mandarin!

Earl’s Tango Mandarins are coming from Homegrown Organic Farms in Porterville, CA about an hour north of Bakersfield.

Tango, Murcott no seeds

Celebrating Valentine’s Week

Let’s celebrate Valentine’s all week long with some of nature’s most beautiful pink and red fruit.

The Cara Cara pink navel is one of my favorite citrus to eat out of hand.  Cara Cara’s are usually seedless and the reddish pink color will intrigue your guests.  The sweet flavor is at its peak in February and although it typically goes through March, we anticipate the season ending earlier this year due to the low volumes coming out of the California freeze. Cara Cara’s like navels should not be juiced because of the natural occurring bitter chemical limonin. Earl’s Cara Cara’s are coming from Home Grown Organic Farms in Porterville, CA about an hour north of Bakersfield.

Fun Fact: Did you know that the outside of the Navel and Cara Cara blossom end looks like a human navel?

Cropped Cara Cara

Ruby grapefruits require high heat for the flesh to develop a beautiful pink blush. Earl’s Ruby’s are grown in the warm region of Coachella in Southern California. They are juicy, contain very little seeds, are easy to peel and available from November to March.  I love a simple salad of grapefruit and avocado drizzled with macadamia nut oil and chopped macadamia nuts.

Ruby Grapefuit cropped

Are you looking for something unusual to impress your date on Valentine’s Day? Not only are Blood Oranges incredibly aromatic but the stunning reddish purple color adds a splash of color to any salad and makes a beautiful mimosa or cocktail.  For a fun appetizer place slices of blood orange on a plate and top with dates and goat cheese drizzled with sherry vinegar and olive oil.

Blood Orange The Moro variety is the most popular with flesh that ranges from light organish red to a dark purple the longer it stays on the tree.

The Moro variety is the most commonly found in the supermarket because it develops the most consistent red flesh color when it at its peak flavor. The red flesh color varies in intensity depending on the variety, location where the trees are grown and the degree of fruit maturity. Earl’s Blood Oranges are from Stehly Farms in Bonsall, CA in San Diego County where the hot days and cold nights bring out the best flavor.

Last but not least we have the most popular fruit on Valentine’s Day.  Beautiful red juicy strawberries are fantastic on their own, dipped in chocolate or delicious mixed in a salad with walnuts. Strawberries are the only fruit with the seeds on the outside of the fruit and the average strawberry contains over 200 seeds.  Strawberries are at the top of the dirty dozen list of produce containing the most pesticides so be sure to buy them organically!

Strawberries on a platter resized

Earl’s Is Dropping The Price On a Great Juicing Fruit

The California Valencia season is finishing up and our new arrival the Royal Mandarin is a great substitute. The Royal Mandarin is an extremely juicy and refreshing piece of fruit with great acid that creates a clean citrus flavor.  Acid is what gives a piece of fruit its unique character.  A late season California Valencia is full of sugar but loses the acid component as it matures towards the end of the season.  The new crop out of Mexico just doesn’t have the same acid components which is why we highly recommend the Royal Mandarin for juicing. 

The Royal Mandarin is a good sized piece of fruit with a beautiful deep orange to red skin. Think 113 and 138 count cases. Their thin skin makes it a breeze to peel and you will forget all about the few seeds when you are drinking that delicious glass of juice.

Call us today for a price quote!

 

Beautiful deep orange-red Royal Mandarin

Beautiful deep orange-red Royal Mandarin

 

Juicy Royal Mandarin

Juicy Royal Mandarin

 

Earl’s Organic Attends the 34th annual Eco-Farm Conference

The Eco-Farm conference in Pacific Grove, CA 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. The conference is also a great chance to network and meet with clients and growers to make plans for the coming year.  I had a chance to finally put a face to the name to many of the wonderful people I work with all year.

The 34th annual Eco-Farm was a 3 day whirlwind of seminars with something for everyone.  Topics covered included “Nourishing Your Farm With Biodynamic Preparations”, “Managing Weeds Organically”, “National Organic Update”, “Keeping GMO’s Out of Organic Food” and the “Asian Citrus Psyllid(Citrus Greening)” just to name a few.  Earl’s sponsored Eco-Farm for the 18th year in a row and had members from the sales, purchasing, marketing, sustainability and warehouse departments represented. Each person had a unique experience at the conference.  Here are a few of their stories.

Beautiful Produce display by Earl and Sita, Helge and Mark from "An Organic Conversation Radio Show"

Beautiful Produce display by Earl and Sita, Helge and Mark from “An Organic Conversation Radio Show”

Patrick Stewart, Head of Sales

ECO farm has always been a great “rejuvenator” for me. It’s great to be around so many people that are involved in the industry and movement I have given so much of my life to. Going back to when I first started working for EOP and Earl closed down the business for 2 days and every employee participated the ECO Farm Conference has been a source of energy and excitement. It provides a great boost that benefits throughout the year.

The “Produce Dinosaurs” panel was especially inspiring. It was great to hear from all of the pioneers of the industry. Many people I have seen over the years and never really knew who they were. Everyone’s story was unique and yet echoed my own experience. One thing that was continually repeated was people’s desire and drive to work for change, for an alternative to the norm. That has also been a common theme throughout my work and personal life. The solid takeaway for me was to never stop working for something better and to always hold the standards of Organic to the highest level.

Maeci Brown, Quality Assurance and Inventory Control

I went to the “Urban Permaculture: Growing Food, Healthy People, and a Just Society in Cities and Towns” seminar. Toby Hemenway spoke about the basic concepts of permaculture and defined it as “a set of tools to create the end goal using resources that are close at hand and readily available.”  Creating a permaculture garden is about design and planning.  For example, when creating a permaculture home garden, zones and sectors are designed to place things that are used often or need the most attention in a location that is close or easily accessed, while things that need less attention are further away. This concept of zones can be applied to everyday life.  An everyday example he gave is how your office desk is set up: computer, pens, telephone -things you need readily all the time are within arm’s reach, while documents that need referencing once in a while may be a bit further away in a file cabinet. If wanting to reduce one’s carbon foot print in terms of food production, zone 1 would be the foods grown at home, zone 2 those grown by a local farm or garden, 3 could be from a grocery store further away, and zone 4 could be a foreign import. My big takeaway from Toby’s presentation was that permaculture is not a specific type of gardening, but a philosophy to apply to all aspects of life.

Ethan Abendroth, Director of Quality Control

I attended the “Dinosaurs In Produce” seminar and realized I am getting old as I found myself relating to many of the stories being told up on stage.  As I was sitting there and listening I very much was aware of what we are part of.  This was confirmed when completely unannounced, a mother attending the Eco Conference took the podium and commenced to extoll the virtues of organic food and how an organic diet has helped children she knows live healthier, fuller lives free of whatever ailments that could not be cured by a pill. Her message made me tear up as she gave thanks to each and every person up on the podium for their efforts in righting an un-right food system.  There is a fairly recent history here and all of the folks up on stage are all current and are still shaping the industry as we know it. I came away with an invigoration that I have not felt about my chosen career path in many a moon.

I also attended the “Citrus Greening” Seminar which is a big concern for all citrus growers. “The Asian citrus psyllid is a small insect that feeds on the leaves and stems of citrus trees. The insect is extremely dangerous because it can transmit a disease that is fatal for citrus. The deadly bacterial disease is called the citrus greening disease, and it has been found in Southern California, putting all citrus trees at risk. Once a tree is infected there is no cure and the tree will die. The best way to prevent the disease from killing citrus trees is to stop the Asian citrus psyllid.” Source: www.Californiacitrusthreat.org

Asian Citrus Psyllid www.californiacitrusthreat.org

Asian Citrus Psyllid
www.californiacitrusthreat.org

In the audience were growers Bill from Sundance and Garff Hathcock from CCH – both of which are heavy hitters in the organic citrus deal – the general feeling from these two is that this disease is no joke and they are VERY worried about this.

Jacob  Levy, Receiving and Quality Control

The Eco Conference gave me an opportunity to check out many other aspects of the trade and socialize with new people who all share a common interest- Organic produce. The conference offered many classes on agriculture that were interesting, including multiple discussions on plant diseases. I found that the conference was more than a series of classes, it was an opportunity to bond with fellow coworkers that I normally don’t interact with and talk to produce veterans and enthusiasts alike about their careers and other aspects of the trade.

One seminar I sat in on at Eco Conference was dedicated entirely to bacterial and fungal diseases within produce. One defect that is plaguing the Florida and Texas citrus market is “Asian Citrus Psyllid and Huanglongbing Disease” aka “Citrus greening”. There have only been a handful of infected trees here in California, however, the threat of citrus greening to our local orchards is very real. Citrus farmers and wholesalers will be affected by this devastating disease and the course was a discussion on how we can be successful in the future. The future it seems is ORGANIC. Conventional growers in Florida are being completely wiped out and organic growers are holding it together and pulling through the plague. With organic farming, instead of focusing on external fertilizers and GM pesticides, we put our energy into building up natural, beneficial enzymes and organic pesticides in the soil. So when pests and disease show themselves in the fields, the fields have the natural tools to fight them off. Conventional farmers are now looking to organic farmers for help to fight through this devastating issue. The Citrus greening problem is direct proof of the power of organic farming.

Eco-Farm is a great place to share ideas and thoughts with people involved in the organic agriculture movement. The gang from Earl’s always comes back excited to share our passion for organic food and agriculture. Stay up to date with organic seasonal produce as it arrives at Earl’s, organic news and Earl’s events on our website and Facebook page.

Eco-Farm 2014 Tour

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Tom from Live Earth Farm with Amigo Bob

Tom from Live Earth Farm with Amigo Bob

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.

Hedgerows at Live Earth Farm

Hedgerows at Live Earth Farm

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).

Todd Champagne from Happy Girl Kitchen with Amigo Bob

Todd Champagne from Happy Girl Kitchen with Amigo Bob

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.