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Archive for February, 2013

Blood Oranges

Blood oranges are one of my favorites right now.  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 flavor is rich and sweet and perfect for that Sunday mimosa party. They can be found from February through May.

Blood Orange

It’s Peak Citrus Time

Everywhere you look there is an amazing array of colorful and tasty citrus.  Now is the best time of the year to take advantage of all the choices out there. We are at the peak of the citrus season and you just can’t go wrong. Minneolas, navels, blood oranges and varieties of mandarin, tangerines and grapefruits abound!

In the United States citrus can be grown in a narrow area that extends from northern California(think Side Hill Satsumas north of Sacramento), to central California, think Fresno, and down to southern California , mostly in San Diego County and California’s Coachella Valley (Palm Springs down to El Centro).  The area continues eastward through the low-elevation deserts of Arizona, into southern Texas, along the Gulf Coast and south through Florida.  (Lance Walheim, Citrus A Complete Guide)

Earl’s Organic sources the majority of our citrus from California and occasionally Mexico during their season. Climate has an effect on the color, flavor, size and shape of the citrus that can be grown. California has dry summers with cool nights and the cooler nights common in the fall and winter produce citrus with more brightly colored rinds. The majority of rain falls during the winter and heavy rains can water log the citrus which can cause molding, possible rind breakdown and a shorter shelf life.  Now as we reach Valentine’s Day we are in a dry spell which means the citrus is able to develop the necessary sugar levels and continuously be harvested.  Let’s take a look at some of the exciting varieties Earl’s is currently carrying.

California Navel

Navels and Valencias are two of the most common citrus varieties.  California Navel oranges are seedless and their thick, bright orange skin is easy to peel and protects it from extreme cold weather.  Navels are best eaten out of hand because they produce a bitterness from Limonin when they are juiced.  The outside of the blossom end looks like a human navel and that is how the name came about. Depending on the weather, Navel oranges are available from November through April, with peak supplies in January, February and March.

Valencia Orange

Earl’s feels that California Valencias are superior in flavor. They are excellent for juicing and have few or no seeds.  We can look forward to the season starting up in April and going through September-October.

Cara Cara

Cara Cara’s are known as the pink navel. The reddish pink flesh is sweet and is usually seedless. They are available from November to March.

Blood orange

Blood oranges are one of my favorites right now.  The Moro variety is the most popular with flesh that ranges from light orangish red to a dark purple the longer it stays on the tree. The flavor is rich and sweet and perfect for that Sunday mimosa party. They can be found from February through May.

Minneola

Minneola’s are a type of tangelo which is a hybrid between a Dancy mandarin and a Duncan grapefruit. They look like a bell with a very distinctive knob at the top of the fruit.  Minneola’s need to be grown in very warm climate zones to be sweet. When they are grown on the coastal regions they are too tart.   They are available from January to April.

Page Mandarins

Page Mandarin’s are a cross between a Minneola tangelo and a Clementine mandarin. They are very small to medium sized with an orange red color. They are often seedless and considered one of the best tasting mandarins. They can be found as early as December through May.

Royal Mandarin

Royal Mandarin’s are also called Temple Tangors and are a cross between an orange or a pummelo and a mandarin.  It contains many seeds and has a deep orange-red pebbled rind. They are super juicy! They are available February-March and are a great substitute for a Valencia.

Fremont Tangerine’s are a cross between a Clementine and Ponkan mandarin. They can be very small to medium sized, usually have seeds and are very juicy and easy to peel.  They are found Mid November to February.

Fremont Tangerine

Murcott Tangerine’s are also called Honey tangerines in Florida, not to be confused with the Honey Mandarin from California.  Their origin is unknown but they have an excellent rich flavor and are good for juicing.  The rind is a bright orange and they can have some seeds.  They are available from January to May and taste great right now!

Murcott Tangerine

Grapefruits have the highest heat requirement of all citrus.  There are two types of grapefruit, white fleshed and pigmentedRuby Grapefruits need high heat to develop their light pink flesh. They don’t have many seeds, are easy to peel and are available from November to March.

Rio Red Grapefruit

Rio Red Grapefruit are adapted from the Ruby Red. They were introduced in 1984 and are a bit larger than a Ruby Red. They are extremely sweet right now and have barely any seeds.  They are more difficult to peel than the Ruby. Rio Red’s can be found from January to September.

Star Ruby Grapefruit has the deepest color of the red grapefruits.  They are the small for a grapefruit and not as acidic as other grapefruits. They need really hot summer climates to develop the best flavor and can be found from February to November.

Ruby Red grapefruit

Cocktail Grapefruit’s are not considered a grapefruit but instead are a pummelo-mandarin hybrid.  They are mostly commonly found in California and they can be as big as a pummelo to the size of a grapefruit.  The rind is often a greenish orange with a light orange flesh.

Cocktail grapefruit

They taste very sweet with no acidity and can have many seeds.  They can be found from November to April. Think George Cunningham!

Citrus is not just for eating out of hand. One of my favorite things to do is to juice a few varieties at the same time.  Try a Minneola, Page Mandarin and Murcott juice mix. Pick fruit that is heavy which means more juice. Gently roll your citrus at room temperature on your kitchen counter. This will get the juices flowing.

Add some of that sweet citrus juice to your morning smoothie. I like doing a simple citrus, banana and spinach smoothie with chia seeds. Try the cocktail grapefruit or Ruby Red grapefruit juice in a gin cocktail with seltzer water.

Slice citrus and add to a spinach, fennel salad with toasted almonds. The tropical baked coconut shrimp with tangelo salsa from Eating Well magazine looks delicious.

The possibilities are endless.  Please share your citrus recipe ideas on Earl’s Facebook page.

Pink Lady Blog Update

Earl’s Organic would like to post a follow up correction to our Pink Lady blog posted on January 17, 2013.

Cripps Pink apples and Pink Lady apples are the same apple variety but in order to be called Pink Lady the apples are packed under strict quality standards.  Pink Lady® is a registered trademark of the Pink Lady America LLC, not the Pink Lady Apple Association as mentioned in our previous blog.   Pink Lady® was one of the first apples to be marketed under a specific brand name rather than by its variety name.

The Cripps Pink apple and Pink Lady apple are a cross between a Golden Delicious apple and a Lady Williams apple.  John Cripps from Australia crossed the two varieties in 1973 and that is why they are called Cripps Pink apple and/or Pink Lady apple.

Look for the Pink Lady heart logo to make sure you are buying the highest quality apple.

Eco-Farm 2013 “What’s Growing On With Urban Farming” by Kathy Vining

The theme of my trip to the EcoFarm conference centered around the integration of agriculture into urban landscapes and our built environment. I attended several particularly powerful seminars most notable of which was “What’s Growing on with Urban Farming”. The speakers represented two amazing urban agriculture initiatives, Alemany farms in San Francisco and the Chicago Botanic Gardens, both of whom are leading the nation’s urban farming movement.

Jason Mark described Alemany farm as horticultural performance art- focused on integrating green spaces and a hub for community engagement and education into the city’s fabric rather than aspiring to build a self sufficient urban food system. Urban farming as an agricultural production method will always remain on the periphery of our food system, he says; there is simply not enough land or open space within city limits to accommodate the dietary needs of a dense urban population. To put things in perspective, R. Ford Denison of the University of Minnesota estimates that a farm the size of the state of Connecticut would be required to grow enough food to feed the city of New York City alone. As far as agricultural production is concerned 3.5 acres (the size of San Francisco’s Alemany Farms) is rather meager. However 3.5 acres in an urban setting, particularly in places where real estate is highly sought after and outrageously expensive, is hard to come by.

This is all part of what some are calling the impending “urban farming bubble”.  In recent years the urban farming movement has exploded; more and more people are excited about growing food in their backyards and reconnecting with their food systems, but due to finite urban resources the truth still remains that urban farming as a tool for creating sustainable local food systems may not be viable. Some might argue that pouring resources into less efficient methods of food production as compared to traditional rural farming models is a waste and will cause the urban farm bubble to eventually burst. However, there are numerous benefits to urban farming beyond simply the production of food. These benefits include but are not limited to, improving local health and reducing dietary diseases, reducing stormwater runoff, combating the urban heat island, and reducing violent crime while providing youth recreation and health education services. Like most city parks, urban farms provide the city with recreational areas, healthy green spaces and an escape from the concrete jungle. But in addition, urban farms increase healthy food access, revitalize local economies and provide local jobs, and serve as a hub for political engagement and a space for community education. For example, Eliza Fournier described the Chicago Botanic Garden as a delicate balance between escapism and political engagement. At the garden they aim to integrate three primary uses into the operations of their green space: recreation, education, and agricultural productivity.

While neither farm may single handedly provide enough food to feed the city, they provide numerous social, environmental, and economic benefits. Leading us to conclude that as the urban farming movement is pitted against finite land resources and rising property costs, we will simply have to get more creative with our methods of urban agricultural production.

Eco-Farm Tour 2013

I started off the 33rd Eco-Farm conference with a farm tour to 4 organic and sustainable farms around Pescadero in San Mateo County, CA.  This region next to the Pacific Ocean has cool, foggy summers, sunny springs and falls and mild wet winters conducive to growing a great range of crops suited to the climate and fertile coastal soils.

Our first stop was the home ranch of Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo. Larry Jacobs walked us through the home ranch and explained that it was like a family with many of the workers also living on the farm in bungalows. When the farm was under different owners they grew peas in the 1920’s, row crops in the 1930’s including beets, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and artichokes.   In I980 the Jacobs bought the farm and started organic farming with a lot of skepticism from other farmers about growing organically.  They started growing culinary herbs and some vegetables for “food for us”, where everyone who works for the farm gets a box of vegetables once a week as a bonus for being part of the family.

Larry Jacobs with Amigo Bob

Jacobs Farm was a pioneer of growing fresh culinary herbs which grew great in the Mediterranean climate of the area and didn’t need much water. All the herbs are cut by hand with scissors or a knife.  They originally were able to satisfy the needs of the San Francisco Produce Market by packing their old red car(with a seat taken out) with 12 boxes of herbs. Now Jacobs Farm needs have grown so much that they lease land in Santa Cruz County and other areas of San Mateo County to grow over 30 varieties of herbs.

Row after row of rosemary at Jacobs Home Farm

Many herbs are grown in green houses in Watsonville and in Mexico during the winter under the Del Cabo label in order to satisfy the year round demand.  Jacobs partners with a large network of growers in Mexico to provide a number of warm weather crops such as cherry tomatoes, peppers, chilies, and squash in addition to their culinary herbs.  The 400 families that provide these commodities are part of the Del Cabo Cooperative, and Jacobs is proud to provide economic opportunities and a safe working environment for the growers.  Earl’s has been buying organic herbs from Jacobs for over 15 years.

Harley Goat Farm Cheese Shop

Our second stop was the Harley Goat Farm, a restored dairy farm built in 1910.  Dee Harley has been running the farm for 19 years and their primary mission is to provide food and an experience that is truly sustainable and local for the community and visitors.

Alpine goats at Harley Goat Farm

 

They have about 200 alpine goats and make 4 varieties of cheese including fromage blanc, chevre, feta and ricotta cheese.   All the cheese is made in small batches and the flavor changes throughout the year depending on what the goats eat.  Spring cheese is said to be the best with the “freshness bursting through”.  Harley farm also has farm dinners in a renovated barn.  Check their website for events on the farm.

Next we visited Leftcoast Grassfed/Tom Kat Ranch.  Leftcoast beef is grass-fed using rotational grazing practices to avoid any overgrazing.  This practice has brought back native grasses, helped reduce erosion and decreased their carbon footprint.  They never use antibiotics or hormones and the animals have met and surpassed all of the requirements for certification for the American Grass-fed Association, the Food Alliance, and Animal Welfare Approved.  They want their cows to be happy cows!

Tom Kat also has an educational foundation. They go into local schools and help plan lunch programs and educate the kids about fitness, nutrition, sustainable agriculture and life on the ranch.

We took a break for lunch and went back to our starting point at the Jacobs Farmstand which is also a huge barn. It had started pouring rain but we all waited in lane for the delicious lunch cooked by Jim Denevan from Outstanding In The Field farm dinners. Beef and potato soup, butternut squash soup, salad with chevre cheese from Harley Farms and beets, focaccia bread, apple pie and apple cider.

Our last certified organic farm of the day was Fifth Crow Farm in Pescadero, CA run by Teresa Kurtak, Mike Irving and John Vars.  They lease 20 acres of land and over 70% of it is used for growing vegetables such as beets, brassicas, strawberries, and lots of leafy greens.  They also have a 1.5 acre 24-variety apple orchard, and a pastured egg operation consisting of 2 flocks of 350+ beautiful ladies- all heritage breeds.

Teresa Kurtak from Fifth Crow Farm speaking to the Eco Farm Tour group

Fifth Crow’s goal is to diversify crops, utilize marketing outlets to promote their farm and to be stewards of the land.  They sell at farmers markets, to restaurants and have a CSA that also includes local grass-fed beef and pork from Markegard Family and local honey from City Bees.

www.fifthcrow.com

Teresa is very passionate about having people understand the value of food. What does labor cost plus offering a livable wage?  It is important for a farmer to charge what they need to so that they don’t undervalue themselves.  “We can’t have a viable food system if we don’t pay for it” says Teresa.  The big question everyone wanted to know was “why do you do it?” Teresa felt like farming matters to her. It is challenging, stimulating and emotionally engaging.  She loves having her own business and feels pleasure in making something.

Mike felt that farming was real and important to society. He is proud of what he does and feels like he is taking care of the earth. He doesn’t like sitting down and working and farming is “the perfect job for him”.

It was another great Eco-Farm tour! Click here to view all the pictures from the farm tour and a video from Fifth Crow Farm on Earl’s Organic Facebook Event Tab. Like our Facebook page and keep up on events, our growers and news in the organic world.

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