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EcoFarm 2015 Experience

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.

EcoFarm Display

EcoFarm Produce Display in Merrill Hall

 

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!

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.

Avocados and Super Bowl Go Together

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.

Avocado hass

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.

Salanova and Leopard Lettuce

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.

Salanova Red

Red Salanova

 

Green Salanova

Green Salanova

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.

Leopard Romaine Lettuce

Leopard Romaine Lettuce

EcoFarm 2015 Commences

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.

MESA Booth EcoFarm 2014

MESA Booth EcoFarm 2014 Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture

 

Tarocco Blood Orange

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.

Tarocco Blood Orange (2)

 

 

 

California Avocados Starting Up

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.

Avocado hass

Hass Avocado

Buyer Beware!

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.

Zutano Avocado

Zutano Avocado

Other varieties you may see throughout the year are the Reed and Pinkerton.

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.

Cold Snap Hits Agricultural Areas Hard

We have passed through the shortest days of the year which meant less sun, slowing down the growth of everything. A severe cold snap is now affecting most of the agricultural areas in California, Arizona and Northern Mexico hindering the growth and harvest of all produce.  Plants can be severely damaged if harvested before they thaw out so growers will need to wait to harvest until late morning losing precious harvesting hours. Where a grower might typically start harvesting at 6am, they are having to wait until 10am when the weather has warmed up. We can expect availability to be tight, prices to go up and to see quality defects on leafy items. Though it is going to slowly warm up there are some long term effects worth consideration:

Prices will continue to stay high until the supply side stabilizes. The thing to remember is that most of the US is pulling produce from the same area that we do at this point in the season. Demand is great – supply isn’t.  To see one of the last true examples of a supply and demand economic model look no further than the fruit and veg industry. There are no price supports, no subsidies and you can charge as little as you want or as much as you want. It either sells or it doesn’t so to speak.  Organics is a smaller industry so prices are even more reactive in a time like this. We can expect to see high prices for at least a few more weeks on all cool season wet veg.  Warm weather crops will also be high but because many of these are greenhouse/hothouse grown the supply side has not been affected as much as the field grown crops.

Price and quality do not track side by side. Often higher prices reflect difficult growing conditions and veg has more cosmetic challenges than we are used to. Most vegetables are comprised mainly of water and water expands when it freezes causing various types of defects. Epidural peel occurs when the outer layer of the leaf freezes, partially dies and then begins to peel. The leaf will have a translucent look. Tip burn happens when the leaf cells break down from extreme temperature causing the outer edges of the leaves to turn black. Cracking can be seen along the stem or ribs and slight frost damage is noticeable on outside leaves.  Blistering causing the epidermis on the outside leaves to begin to fall apart.

Planting, transplanting and germination of seeds can be very hard or delayed when the ground becomes real cold or freezes.  Down the line in about 40-60 days we will start to see the gaps in supply caused by the planting challenges of today.

Continue to check our posts and social media sites for updates. In the meantime bundle up and stay warm!

Temperatures Drop in California

If you woke up this morning and felt that it was colder than usual you weren’t imagining it. Temperatures have dropped down in California, especially in the desert. The last few mornings saw frost and ice in Coachella and the Imperial Valley. Coachella hit a low of 16 degrees today! Northern Mexico also has had lower temperatures than normal. Plants can be severely damaged if harvested before they thaw out so growers will need to wait to harvest until late morning. Most of the wet vegetable items that are grown in the desert can take quite low temperatures and will recover even when frozen. The cold weather reduces the number of hours they can harvest a day.  We can expect availability to be tight, prices to go up and quality defects on leafy items.

Most vegetables are comprised mainly of water and water expands when it freezes causing various types of defects. Epidural peel occurs when the outer layer of the leaf freezes, partially dies and then begins to peel. The leaf will have a translucent look. Tip burn happens when the leaf cells break down from extreme temperature causing the outer edges of the leaves to turn black. Cracking can be seen along the stem or ribs and slight frost damage is noticeable on outside leaves.

More weather and produce updates to come as we begin the new year.

Everyone at Earl’s Organic wishes you a healthy, happy and prosperous 2015!

Winter Citrus Harvest Update

In our last few blogs we discussed how the heavy rains in California could possibly affect the citrus harvest. The fruit becomes waterlogged which can cause mold, possible rind breakdown also known as “clear rot” and a shorter shelf life.  All of that water also disperses the sugar and dilutes the flavor. The growers need to wait until the fruit dries out and the sugars are redistributed before picking again. Picking the fruit after the rain can leave bruise marks on the fruit and the oil from the workers hands can change the skin from orange to yellow.  Only time will tell if the fruit has been affected and just now we are noticing some bruising on fruit that was picked last week during the break from the rain. As mentioned before we may or may not see gaps on varietal citrus in the coming weeks as the heavy rain continues.

The biggest side effect from the rain we have seen is from Side Hill Citrus in Lincoln, north of Sacramento. Side Hill Satsuma mandarins, a favorite of everyone at Earl’s, ended a few weeks early this year.  There was too much moisture in the fruit due to the rains and the fruit itself lacked the flavor that everyone has come to expect from the grower Rich Ferreira. We hope that you had a chance to try this incredible piece of fruit while it was plentiful.

Winter is citrus time so don’t despair. We have many more varieties in which to look forward. California Navels are coming on stronger and getting sweeter with every land. The outside of the blossom end looks like a human navel and that is how the name came about. Their thick skin allows them to fend off serious water damage and protects them from extreme cold weather.  Navels are easy to peel, seedless and are best for eating out of hand. Navels can be juiced but need to be consumed immediately or the juice will turn bitter because of the compound limonin found in the pith. Navels are currently coming out of the central San Joaquin Valley in the Porterville area. The season runs from November through April, with peak supplies in January, February and March coming from the San Joaquin Valley and San Diego County.

Navel cropped_2

Clementine Mandarins are that perfect small to medium piece of fruit to throw in your bag for a snack later.   The amount of seeds depends on if there is a pollinator nearby.  They are easy to peel with an extremely sweet and juicy, beautiful orange flesh.  Clementines come from a group of varieties and are also known as the Algerian mandarin in California.  They are coming out of the central San Joaquin Valley and the season runs November through January. Their thin skin means that they are likely to encounter issues with the wet weather.

Clementine (1)

 

The Page Mandarin will be available in limited quantities from the Fallbrook area in San Diego County. The Page is a cross between a Minneola tangelo and Clementine Mandarin. Usually seedless with a fantastic rich flavor you can pick them out easily by their bright orange red skin. The season runs from December to May.

Citrus Buying Tip:

During this rainy season we recommend buying less citrus and buying more often. The fruit won’t hold as long so keep what you buy in the refrigerator.

As you know by now produce is weather dependent and supply can change as fast as the weather. We can look forward to Minneolas and Blood Oranges coming around the end of December or beginning of January. Learn about the different varieties of citrus and what to expect in terms of flavor profiles and supplies in future blogs.

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