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Archive for January, 2012

Winter Market Update

Are you wondering why the prices of vegetables have been higher than normal when you go to the grocery store?  Kale prices have been increasing due to high demand as the latest super food and low supplies from the California desert because of recent cold weather.  Supplies of Chard and other bunch greens are tight due to recent freezes so prices will still be high.  One additional thing to remember is that during the winter the entire United States is pulling vegetables from the same area which limits the quantities available. The good news is that supplies of broccoli and lettuce have turned around and are plentiful again so we can expect prices to start going down.   The reality is that it is winter and the weather affects not only the regions where produce can be grown but the quantity and quality of what is available.

Many of our winter crops are grown in the California Imperial Valley desert which starts just south of Palm Springs in the narrow area of Coachella, widens up as it continues through the central valley, home of the Salton Sea, and narrows again as it reaches El Centro in the Mexican valley.  The winters are short, brutal and extreme in the desert but things can turn around fast.  There are challenges from crop to crop during this short winter period.  Almost all the growers in the desert have the same profile for the plants they are growing this time of year.  Weather affects everyone equally resulting in flushes and shortages throughout the season but in particular you will see greater price fluctuations this time of year.

We can expect winter to continue in the desert through mid to late February.  Now that we have passed the shortest day of the year the days are getting longer, bringing more sunlight which is significant for the growth of the vegetables.  Keep checking back with Earl’s for produce updates.

Fuerte Avocado

Avocados were discovered in America when Cortez landed in the 16th century, although they originated in south-central Mexico sometime between 7,000 and 5,000 B.C.  In the early 1900’s avocados began being grown commercially and by the 1950’s there were at least 25 different varieties being grown in California.  The Fuerte was number one and built the avocado industry, accounting for more than two-thirds of the California avocado production.

The Fuerte is a cross between the native Mexican and Guatemalan species and means strong in Spanish because it can withstand temperatures as low as 26 degrees Fahrenheit.  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 compliments any salad.

So why is it that the Hass avocado is everywhere and we don’t see the Fuerte very often anymore?  Although the Hass variety was discovered in the early 1930’s by a postman from Pasadena it had a very undesirable look with its thick bumpy skin that turned almost black when ripe.  In the 1970’s large scale production, transportation and marketing efforts convinced the consumer how delicious the Hass was with its high oil content.  Now the Hass makes up 80% of all avocados consumed in the entire world.

Today, California is the leading producer of domestic avocados and home to about 90 percent of the nation’s crop. Most California Avocados are harvested on approximately 52,000 acres from San Luis Obispo through San Diego by nearly 5,000 growers. San Diego County, which produces 60 percent of all California Avocados, is the acknowledged avocado capital of the nation.  (The California Avocado Commission CAC)


Another delicious citrus has arrived on the scene.  Minneolas, also known as Honeybells, can be picked out of a crowd with their knob like neck which gives it a bell shape.  Minneolas are tangelos, a cross between a Duncan grapefruit and a Dancy tangerine that was developed in 1931 by the USDA Horticultural Research station in Orlando and named after Minneola, Florida. They grow large in size with seeds and develop a deep red orange skin with a delicious sweet-tart flavor. They are easier to peel than oranges and are great for juicing.

Minneola trees are small in height, around twenty feet and have shiny leaves and flowers which have a very strong odor.  Minneolas are usually planted with cross pollinators and tend to have heavy crops every other year.  They are available from January through April with the peak harvest in January.  Like oranges, Minneolas are beneficial for the immune system and are a good source of folate, beta carotene, potassium, magnesium, vitamin B and vitamin C which helps prevent the pre-mature aging damage done from free radicals. They are best eaten out of hand, juiced or try them in a salad.

Earl’s Organic Produce raises social media bar

The Packer- Covering the fresh produce industry since 1893
Don Schrack
January 6, 2012

An organics firm has planted a new social media flag at the San Francisco Wholesale ProduceMarket.

Earl’s Organic Produce has become the market’s first merchant to add the title of social media director to its staffing chart. Susan Simitz just three months ago claimed the new title among her other duties as marketing manager.

“Facebook was already in place when I arrived, but I’ve now begun Twitter,” Simitz said.

The strategy at Earl’s Organic Produce is to combine the company’s website with its social media outreach.

“We’re trying to be part of the conversation in the food world locally, trying to stay relevant,” said Earl Herrick, owner.

Food tastings, demonstrations and other outreach efforts also are part of the strategy, he said.

“It’s all about getting people to engage,” Simitz said.

By that dimension, Twitter has found a home at Earl’s Organic Produce.

Simitz said there already have been Twitter conversations with residents on the East Coast, in Mexico and as far away as Europe.

“The goal is to have our website be a place where anyone could go for any information he or she might want to know about produce and what’s going on in the produce industry,” she said.

Herrick sees the company’s role on the Internet in a broad sense.

“What I’d eventually like to attain is that we’re just not commenting on what’s in season and tastes good, but the seasonality of it, and why it’s that way, where it’s coming from, what’s the time of maturity — those kinds of things,” he said.

Most of the company’s customers are regional, but Earl’s Organic Produce has extended its service in recent years.

“We have enjoyed some commodities that do travel well, particularly heirloom tomatoes and stone fruit,” Herrick said.

This year, satsumas have been added to that short list, and the company is using the Internet to spread the word.

“East of Colorado, many people don’t know about satsumas,” Herrick said.

Regardless where the computer user resides, Earl’s Organic Produce is ready to serve, Simitz said.

“If you have a question, just send it in,” she said. “If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find it.”

Valencia Oranges

The California Valencia season will be coming to an end soon in the next week or two and the new crop of Valencias from Mexico are just starting up. In terms of flavor, these 2 are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The California Valencias being sweet with low acid and the Mexican Valencias with high acid and low sugar.  This is true of any emerging citrus regardless of where it is grown. The new crop will almost always have the high acid and low sugar content and will sweeten up as the season goes on.

The lack of rain in California this winter is not the preferred situation but the upside is no waterlogged citrus and the pickers are not hindered with moving their ladders in and out of the orchards.  Try mixing 2 types of oranges together for a nice juice with character. Mix Valencias with Satsumas, Minneolas or Blood Oranges which are arriving any day now.  While the Valencia is considered a summer orange, look for the California Valencia new crop to start up sometime in April.


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