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Forbidden Fruit Blueberry Update

For the last nine years, except for 2012 and 2013, we have enjoyed Forbidden blueberries in March. This is one of those years that the fruit is slow to ripen and size up. “There was a big delay from Thanksgiving to January 1st where the temperatures were so cold that nothing happened for 6 to 7 weeks,” said Sandy Newman, owner of Forbidden Fruit Orchards.  “We saw continuous temperatures of 50 degrees during the day and down to 36 at night. The plants just sat there and now we are 6 weeks behind. The rain didn’t help the situation but the clouds hanging on for 3 to 4 days in a row was the real problem.”

The farm is located on 8.5 acres about 15 miles from the ocean in Pinot Noir country in northern Santa Barbara County.  The cold pacific air comes right to the property but the 50 foot tall pine trees planted around the fields are natural wind breaks, helping to keep the heat in the fields.  Blueberries are weather dependent and they need the sun and heat for ripening.  Yesterday was full of sunshine with a high of 69 but Sandy is hoping for an 80 degree heat wave. “We have a great set out there, just waiting to size up and get color, “said Sandy.  She estimates that her blueberries will be ready for harvesting in mid-April.  Let’s hope for lots of sunshine over the next couple of weeks!

March 30, 2016 (2)March 30, 2016 (1)

George Phillips of Grateful Greens Will Be Remembered

On behalf of The Phillips Family

It is with the greatest sorrow that the family of George Ernest Phillips wishes to announce his untimely death on Sunday, February 21, 2016. George, 72, died suddenly while he was doing what he enjoyed doing most, hiking near his home in the Santa Cruz Mountains. George passed away while looking out at his most loved view of the Santa Cruz Mountains, up above the fog line of the redwoods, upon the peaks off Summit Road, among the Oaks and Manzanita trees, looking towards the Monterey Bay.

Earl’s Organic started our partnership with Grateful Greens in 2012.  George was a pleasure to work with and always brought his deliveries of wheatgrass and sprouts with a smile. He relished in his work and always believed that nutrition and a healthier lifestyle are connected. He will be greatly missed by the Earl’s team.

George is survived by his two children, daughter Brittney (Brady) and son Jordan (Susan), and eight grandchildren: Austin, Landon, Kyana, Gavin, Alanakai, Halle, Avery and Mayzie. George is also survived by his brother, Ken Phillips.

To know George was to love George. A business leader, an honest friend, a man of infinite ingenuity, possibility and presence, George was the guy who could be talking to a room full of people and remember everyone’s name on a single pass. The founder and president of Grateful Greens, a company who supplies greens to residential customers, Jamba Juice and many grocery and commercial outlets, George was known for rejoicing in working long hours and finding great satisfaction in a good day’s work. He will be remembered as a man who always gave more than he got, of gentle temperament, and with an eye for quality and detail throughout all facets of his life.

A California native, George graduated from Utah’s Brigham Young University with a degree in Business Administration, moving on to Wall Street, before returning to Santa Barbara in the 60’s. For the next fifty years George’s career was a ladder of success, marked by numerous awards for exemplary salesmanship in the creation and growth of a number of companies, from sales awards at Xerox, culminating in being the National Sales Director of Silicon Valley’s Covalent Systems, he moved through many leadership roles in technology companies in Silicon Valley, before the founding of his own company, Grateful Greens, in the mid 2000’s.

George attacked leisure like he attacked his work. An avid skier, hiker and nature enthusiast, George was at home, whether packing in Mineral King’s peaks and valleys, or Hawaii’s Big Island, or in the coastal mountains near his home. George was always focused on when he could get “back to the Sierra”… the place that shaped him.

His outward presence was one of confidence and stability. His inward nature was about driving to the silence of nature, the possibility of the future, the grounding of what was in front of him in the moment.

When he wasn’t out enjoying nature, George could be found working on his property, which he loved, while listening to albums like “Dark Side of the Moon.”

To talk to his family about George is to learn of a generous man, who above all else, could see the possibility, or even more to the truth, the opportunity, behind every situation. Described regularly as a man who could see both the forest and the trees, George was of a rare character, able to dismiss distraction while tirelessly pursuing a singular vision.

A gathering for family and friends to remember George will be held on Saturday April 2nd in the afternoon. The location and directions to the site will be posted on www.gratefulgreens.com and www.scmemorial.com at later date; please check those sites for the updated information. In lieu of flowers the family asks that you make donations in George’s memory to www.heifer.org.

We’d like to provide assurance that during this time of sadness all Grateful Greens’ business operations are continuing as usual.

Thank you,

Ivana Myron
Program Manager | Grateful Greens
Mobile 408.483.6767 | Toll Free 844.353.0911 Hours of operation: 8:00am – 5:00pm“Delivering Organic Wheatgrass & Sprouts straight to your door”Connect with us GratefulGreens.comFacebook | Yelp

Grateful greens

Hass Avocado Pre-Conditioning Process

The oldest evidence of avocado use was found in a cave located in Coxcatlán, Mexico dating around 10,000 BCE. Making it quite possible that Montezuma scooped up his ahuacamolli (guacamole) with a fresh corn tortilla, the same way millions on super bowl Sunday have done over 500 years later.

The name has changed over time, but the main ingredient has remained the same, RIPE AVOCADOS…

Avocados are very unique in that they begin the ripening process once they are off the tree. The avocado fruit can rest quietly on the branch for 6-8 months or longer after blossom before being ready for harvest. It is this delicate and patient process that we keep in mind while preconditioning our avocados at Earl’s Organic Produce.

avo tree pics

We receive our avocados green and firm from some of the best growers in California and Mexico, depending on the time of year. The ideal temperature of these green avocados upon arrival is between 40-50 degrees F. The ideal temperature for ripening these same avocados is between 60-65 degrees F.  This conditioning process extends far beyond simply raising the temperature of the fruit by 20 degrees.

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Hass avocados from green(left) to ripe(far right).

At Earl’s we do not use forced air ripening rooms for avocados, nor do we use ethylene. We allow the fruit to ripen as it would naturally off of the tree, simply by controlling and monitoring the temperature at which the fruit rests. We have found that this intensive and time consuming process is best for conditioning avocados, resulting in the perfect vibrant deep green avocado that is ready to eat.

  • To begin our conditioning program, we isolate the selected fruit and place it at ambient temperature, usually between 50-60 degrees depending on the season.
  • The appearance and temperature of this fruit is monitored and logged at least twice daily, to ensure a perfect conditioning process.
  • This fruit typically will start releasing ethylene within 24-48 hours at the ambient temperature. At this stage the fruit will also begin producing its own heat, which requires close attention to ensure the fruit does not exceed 70 degrees F, causing irregular ripening as well as possible decay.
    • Ethylene is a natural plant hormone released in the form of a gas.
  • Once the fruit begins producing ethylene, we may place a large plastic covering over the pallet, this will trap the gas produced and help accelerate the conditioning process, however this is not always necessary.
  • There may be times in the season in which the fruit begins to ripen at a faster pace than we may like, and this requires different action to slow and cool the fruit. We would first air stack the pallet, allowing cool air to move and circulate more freely around the boxes, and if necessary we may use large fans to “blow” the warmer air out of the fruit.
  • Because every piece and box of this fruit will often condition at its own pace throughout the season, we may have multiple pallets receiving its own different and custom treatment at any given time. This is when the process becomes immensely consumptive, but in the end it is worth it to provide that perfectly conditioned avocado!Providing the customer with “ready to eat” fruit results in increased overall sales and improved customer satisfaction and in the end ripe avocados outsell green avocados 2 to 1. Avo knife

Earl’s Organic Produce has been conditioning avocados for nearly 2 years now, offering all counts and sizes as “pre conditioned” on our daily Earl’s Organic pricelist. We have seen great success with this program and have received nothing but positive feedback from our customers involved in this program.

We are passionate at Earl’s about providing hand conditioned avocados to you and your customers, as this delicious fruit deserves no less. Let Earl’s do the work for you by providing beautifully conditioned avocados.

Covilli – Organic and Environmental Stewards

We are promoting sustainable methods that translate into a more just food system. How? by offering good food to nourish our bodies, by minimizing the impact farming leaves behind in our lands and water, and by giving value to the men and women that work every aspect: from soil preparation to harvesting with expert and efficient hands, to get us the vegetables that we love and need.

This is what being organic and Fair Trade Certified means to everyone at Covilli.

We only sell what we grow- there are no outside growers or outsourcing- which allows us full control from seedling to distribution. Our operation is approx. 25% greenhouses, in ground not hydroponic, and 75% open field.

Flower

As part of our commitment towards organic purity, we enforce an intensive Integrated Pest Management Program (IPM) which includes:

  • Insect Monitoring Stations: they give us a sense of population and types of insects in the area as part of our preventative program that among many things it covers.
  • Crop Rotation: This is a robust program that changes every year.
  • Beneficial Insects: Released inside the greenhouses
  • Cover Crop rotation with a small percentage of intercrop.
  • We are currently working on incorporating local mycorrhiza
  • We build our own Shade and Greenhouses based on Israeli engineering.
  • We work with a local honey producer brings hives into our farm for pollination, and later sells the honey produced locally.

Our farm’s General Manager actively participates in the Local Board of Vegetable Health and in the Vegetable and Fruit Grower Association in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico; focused on pest and disease mitigation as well as procuring state and federal funding.

As Mexican farmers we must comply with more and stricter regulations because our products cross the international border into the United States, where U.S. Customs, FDA and USDA have agricultural, food safety and pest concerns.

At Covilli, we have a strong environmental commitment: we recycle all plastic such as greenhouse covers and drip irrigation lines as well as mulching and solarisation. We also incorporate clean cardboard in our compost, which is produced using all of our farm trimmings and is fully organic. All the water utilized on our farm comes from a well within the property and our entire operation uses drip irrigation for water conservation purposes.

 Our Food Safety emphasis

Food Safety is critical to our operation. We are certified in Global Food Safety (GFS), Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) making it one of the most comprehensive and complex certifications. We have taken our commitment further than most, by having the Organic and GFS (Global Food Safety) Certifications for our warehouse at Covilli’s H.Q. in Nogales, AZ., as well, which makes us organic all the way through.

About 85% of the produce that is consumed in the US is hand-picked in other countries.  Buying products labeled as Fair Trade is an easy way to support the hard-working people who grow the products that you love. At only few extra cents per pound-the Fair Trade Premium-will allow for democratically chosen projects to become a reality in Covilli’s farm worker communities.

Each of us at Covilli Brand Organics has as a set objective, contributing towards a great product that is good and meaningful, that protects our earth, our workers and their families, your children and our children; in this we take great pride. We are Growing Quality by Tradition. Truly Organic, Truly Fair.

Covilli Fair Trade Banner with only logos

Rhubarb and Spring Go Hand in Hand

Beautiful red stalks of rhubarb have arrived at Earl’s signaling the beginning of spring. Often thought of as a fruit, rhubarb is actually a vegetable that can traced back to 2700 BC in China where it was used for medicinal purposes. Rhubarb is a perennial herb grown from a crown, similar to asparagus, and will continue to produce up to 15 years. Rhubarb is very weather dependent and needs a summer temperature of 75° or below for maximum production. Once the temperatures reach 90° or above the plant will start to wilt.

Rhubarb grows best in the northern regions of the United States.  It can be found grown on a commercial level in Oregon, Washington and Michigan. Rhubarb from the Pacific Northwest is all field grown and the season runs from late March until the end of June. The Michigan season begins in April with hothouse grown rhubarb and later moves to field grown.

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Warning!
Only eat the leaf stalks or petioles. This is one vegetable where you do not want to use the whole plant. The leaves can be considered poisonous due to their high levels of oxalic acid.

How to buy
Look for bright red stalks which have a sweet rich flavor. The size of the stalk is not an indicator of tenderness!

Fun Fact

Rhubarb is 95% water and high in potassium and vitamin c.

Storage and Cooking
Wrap loosely in plastic and store in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Do not keep for more than a few days or it will start to dry out. Place the stalks in cold water for about an hour to refresh them before cooking.

Rhubarb is very tart and acidic and will make your mouth pucker up if you eat it out of hand. Just add honey or sugar to transform it into a delicious dessert or savory dish. We like pairing rhubarb with strawberries in a pie or making a compote to top yogurt or vanilla ice cream. My favorite recipe is a refreshing rhubarb shake topped with chopped pistachios.

Please share your recipes on our Facebook page and Rhubarb Pinterest Board.

Rhubarb Shake

Rhubarb shake with chopped pistachios

Spring Transition

During the winter months many growers move their operations from the Salinas and San Joaquin Valleys down to Yuma, Arizona and the California desert, think Coachella Valley just south of Palm Springs down through the Imperial Valley to El Centro at the border of Mexico. As the weather warms up in March the growers will transition back up north. We will see some overlap during the transition as growers finish up in Yuma and the desert and simultaneously start production in the Salinas and San Joaquin Valleys.

During the transition we can expect to see times when supply is low or gapping as growers move to the new area.  Inclement weather, hotter days, and the end of the season in the desert can result in produce showing more defects and issues than usual. Temperatures in the desert are now reaching into the mid to upper 80 degrees and historically are in the 100s by June.  We can expect a more stable supply and volume of wet veg, especially leafy greens, as the transition back to the cooler areas of the Salinas and San Joaquin Valleys is completed.

Grower Update:

Braga, Cal-Organic and Lakeside are done shipping out of the desert and are in the middle of transferring their operations back to the Central Coast.

Heger will continue for another 6 weeks or so out of the desert as they move into warm veg items.  They do not have a second location so we will see a gap on this particular grower until they start up again in the fall.

Burkart Stone Fruit Just Around The Corner

Burkart Organics nectarines, plums and peaches are in full bloom. Richard Burkart reports that the earliest of the peaches and nectarines are still in their “jackets”, which is essentially the bloom that covers the fruit. Once the blossoms drop off in the next 2 to 3 weeks he will have a better idea what the season holds.  Burkart is located in Dinuba along the northern border of Tulare County about 4 hours south of San Francisco.

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Spring Farm Visit to Covilli Brand Organics

 

Workers in the fieldBy the time it was solar noon the Sonoran sun had melted away all obstacles in the now clear blue sky, fully saturating the fields and fruits below.

We stood in the comforting shade of the nursery, happy to escape the blinding sun of the Empalme Valley. This is the starting point, the simple birthplace of everything Covilli Brand Organics produces.

“We mix our compost and soil blend here,” said Ernesto Moreno, pointing into a large stainless steel tub with one side open revealing the corkscrew blade in the center. Ernesto, one of the partners at Covilli stands proudly in front of us with the sleeves of his western shirt rolled up to his elbows, eagerly anticipating any questions. His western shirt was tucked neatly into his blue jeans, revealing the large oval shaped, gold and silver belt buckle that rested at his mid point.

“After the soil is mixed properly we load it into these trays and send it down this conveyer belt,” Ernesto said as he motioned with his hands above the belt. The next stop was a small vacuum seeder that they soil trays would roll under to receive the seeds that were placed into the dark and nurturing soil. Covilli does not buy or source any outside seedlings or starters, so this is the powerful beginning of every plant on the farm, from soil and seed to flower and fruit…this is Covilli.

After clearing Mexican customs in the small yet efficient Hermosillo International Airport we walk down a bright hallway with glowing tiles floors. Alex Madrigal and Iris Montano-Madrigal stand happily before us, prepared to greet old friends as well as new.

Iris wearing a light colored sundress with her hair pulled high behind her head now stands beside Alex, both bearing cheerful smiles. Alex steps forward to greet us, wearing cargo shorts that end above his knee and sandals that are strapped on to his feet, I immediately think and now see that I am dressed too warm for this climate. Together, we walk out of the airport as the heat of the Mexican sun now rests upon our backs and shoulders. I notice as everyone now squinting, begins to shuffle around in their packs searching for sunglasses.

After a short walk from the sliding glass doors of the airport we load our bags into the deep purple minivan that Iris and Alex have driven. Comfortably, we all jump inside the van to begin the 1.5 hour drive south to Guaymas. As we begin to drive through the city streets of Hermosillo, before entering into the Sonoran desert, I feel a crunch under my feet. Shuffling my feet on the floor, I look down to find a small gathering of Cheerios left behind from a recent snack. I smile to myself as the term “Family Farm” comes to mind and settle in as the cactus and scrub bush dances outside my window.

A field of Brussels sprouts is bordered by kale to keep the aphids away

A field of Brussels sprouts is bordered by kale to keep the aphids away

Zucchini Blossom

Zucchini Blossom

After breakfast in Guaymas we traveled by truck on the back roads of the Empalme Valley before arriving in the fields of Covilli, early on Saturday morning. The sun had not yet gained total control over the day, allowing the farm workers to move with ease and grace through the plantings of zucchini and Brussels sprouts.

“We have found that planting green kale at the end of every row is helpful in controlling aphids in the Brussels,” Alex said as he pointed down each row of the vibrant brassica plantings.

Terry Poiriez, Alex’s father, moved into this valley in mid-90’s to begin farming organically. “This land was known as great watermelon growing country,” Alex says “this was one of the reasons why Terry ended up here.”

Other than a few spread out dairy operations, Covilli was one of the first and only vegetable farms in this area for the longest time.

“Over the course of the past year, more and more farms have begun to move in around us,” Alex says as he gazes over one of the fences at the end of a zucchini plot. “The farms moving into this area are mostly coming from the Hermosillo area,” Alex says, “they have recently started having issues with water there, forcing them to move.”

Compost yard

Compost yard

After walking the vibrant Brussels and zucchini fields, we hop back into the truck and drive over to the heartbeat of Covilli, the compost yard.
This is where organic production reveals itself, exposing and declaring its support for the earth below. Rows of brightly colored heirloom tomatoes and zucchini melt and decompose becoming part of the compost below.

“We do not bring in any outside compost, everything we use to fertilize the plants comes from here,” Alex says proudly as he gazes past the haze of the composting tomatoes. Ernesto has now joined up with us, as he stands next to the truck and says, “We have been developing this compost program for over 8 years, and it only continues to get better.”

Covilli’s composting program has become so successful that surrounding farms have begun to ask them if they can purchase some of their compost, but at this point they are only keeping up with their own demands.

This is the first year that Covilli is Fair Trade certified, now offering all vegetables organic and fair trade. Alex and Iris were more than accommodating when it came to arranging an opportunity for us to sit and speak with the farmworker committee of Covilli’s Farm. With Iris translating, we all sit together in the shade of Neem trees that were planted by Terry many years ago.

The boundaries of language seemed to disappear, like watching a captivating movie with subtitles, it had turned into a conversation amongst friends. It was interesting to hear and speak of the meaning of Fair Trade on both sides of the table, to share in our support of this program. I left knowing that I would soon return to see that projects that this program has helped to manifest, and the benefits that will come along with them.

Farm Interviews

Interviewing the farmworker committee of Covilli’s Farm

“Let’s go and see the Heirlooms,” Alex says and Ernesto quickly responds “house 28,” and off we go into the maze of greenhouses.

Inside these houses reveal a world abuzz with vegetable life. Rows of heirloom tomatoes reach towards sky, with green vines happily supporting giant colorful fruits. Walking the rows between plantings reveal different varieties distinguished by modest wooden stakes that read “Cherokee” or “Zapote.”

Purple tomatoesHeirlooms being packed in greenhouse

The last stop on the farm for all Covilli products is the greatly organized and staffed packing shed, so it seemed suitable that we end there as well.

It was a beehive of activity as many farmworkers were making their way back to shed after lunch. Green plastic bins filled with zucchini, Brussels and cucumbers made their way to the shed via flatbed truck. They were then neatly stacked in the shade awaiting their chance to enter the cool water bath and ride into the shed where they would be packed in Covilli or Ciari boxes based on their grade and quality.

After the water bath, all products travel into the shed on a conveyer belt where they meet the hands of farmworkers ready to decide their fate. “Covilli or Ciari, fancy or extra fancy,” these decisions are so precise, yet made seemingly effortless by the men and women on the packing line.

“Everything except the heirloom tomatoes will make their way through this process,” Alex says as we walk through the shed, moving towards the coolers.

Stepping into the coolers, we feel the first great chill of the day, the sun immediately cleared from our minds as we look at the pallets of produce waiting to ship. All products go from the packing line, through the hydro cooler (if applicable) and into the Covilli cooler, this helps ensures product quality and temperature.

Covilli Farm does not simply grow and pack vegetables. There is a great sense of pride and care taken at every single step of the process. Every tomato and every zucchini that you eat is the result of this complex, nutrient dense and most of all FAIR process.

from soil and seed to flower and fruit, this is Covilli.

Flower

Who is Covilli Brand Organics?

The 3rd child of an Italian wife and a French husband- born and raised in Illinois during quite precarious economic conditions- Terry Poiriez was a natural entrepreneur and a visionary who began farming out of chance. By the early 1990’s he had already become a precursor of organic agriculture.

25 years later Covilli Brand Organics is being run by second generation successors and our founders’ legacy of integrity, lives on as our company’s core value; we continue to fulfill our personal commitment towards the highest quality and consistency, because we understand that for our clients, knowing what to expect is crucial.

Our products are grown in Mexico, in the Empalme Valley of the northern state of Sonora, because of its temperate weather during the winter season and ideal location.

Mexico’s farming situation is very complex – the rich soil and varied temperatures allow for everything and anything to grow; historically, farmers and farm workers who are mostly indigenous, have been marginalized, oppressed and forced to walk away from their communities and relocate to the cities, other states or immigrate illegally into the U.S.

Very basic human rights that Fair Trade as a global movement establishes have been denied to many, not only in Mexico but in many other countries, both industrialized and not:

  • Fair wages and dignified working conditions
  • NO child labor, forced or slave labor
  • Equal rights and opportunity between men and women

Over half of our employees are migrant workers from the southeastern state of Guerrero who come back every year during our winter working season; about 75% of them have been returning for many years – a direct result of the equitability and respect we’ve always had for our workers.

The Fair Trade Premium –a few extra cents added to product cost, determined by Fair Trade USA – goes directly to the recently formed Workers Association “Nuchi Sansekan” which means “all together” in Náhuatl, a native dialect of indigenous origin that is still very prevalent. These funds are specifically designated for social, economic and environmental development projects.

We believe that it is through the Fair Trade Premium that we’ll be able to “bring back” the possibility of a more dignified quality of life for our farmworkers and their families – either at their hometowns in southern Mexico or in Sonora – and the fact that it is the farm workers that determine what project suits their needs and how and when to implement it is what will bring the much needed empowerment, that Fair Trade so consciously promotes.

Covilli Fair Trade Banner with only logos

 

 

Transition to California Hass Avocados

Although you may still find some Mexican Hass avocados on the market, Earl’s Organic as well as our customers have transitioned exclusively to carrying only domestic California fruit.  Buyers beware that it is very early in the California season and the fruit will take longer to ripen than its more mature Mexican counterpart.

The fact is that they are low in oil content and can take a week or more to ripen. Avocados should be kept above 55 degrees but below 70 degrees. Colder temperatures can turn the flesh black and warmer temperatures can cause irregular ripening and decay.  Earl’s concrete warehouse floor holds a temperature of around 55 to 60 degrees that is perfect to ripen avocados.

Our dedicated followers will know that we have many blogs covering the nuances of avocados throughout the year.

Learn more here about the geography of California avocados as we move through the year and how to choose a Hass avocado here.

AVOCADO hass

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