twitter24x24square facebook24x24square youtube24x24square pinterest24x24square instagram24x24square

Archive for March, 2016

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.


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.

2_14_2016 6_00_33 PM


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.


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



Follow us ...

twitter24x24square facebook24x24square youtube24x24square pinterest24x24square instagram24x24square