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Winter Transition to the Desert

It is that time of year when many California growers transition their wet veg operation, think lettuces, leafy greens, broccoli and cauliflower, from the cooler areas of the Central Coast and Salinas Valley down to the warmer regions in the California desert, Imperial Valley and Yuma, Arizona. The desert regions include Coachella, Thermal and Mecca north of the Salton Sea and south of Palm Springs. The Imperial Valley extends from the southern area of Coachella, past the Salton Sea and all the way down to the border of Mexico. Warm veg is now mostly coming out of Baja California and northern Mexico, think zucchini, green beans, hot peppers, colored bells, cucumbers and tomatoes.


As we approach the winter solstice on December 21st it is getting colder and days are becoming shorter. Less hours of sun slows down the growth of everything which means there are less hours in the day to harvest which can lead to light volumes. Combined with the fact that during winter the entire United States is pulling vegetables from the same area which also limits the quantities available and can lead to higher prices.

Roasting Chestnuts

Tips on roasting chestnuts: Cut an “X” shape into the flat side of each chestnut. Use a sharp knife to do this. This will make the chestnuts roast faster, allowing the steam to escape from the chestnuts. Place them on a baking sheet with the cut side up. Roast 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees, keeping an eye on them so they don’t burn. Let them cool slightly before easily removing the shell. We enjoy added them to Japanese rice for a fall favorite. https://www.justonecookbook.com/chestnut-rice-kurigohan/


California Grown Pomegranates

Pomegranates are native to Persia, now called Iran. They are one of the oldest fruits grown with evidence reaching back as far as 2000 B.C. In the United States they enjoy the drier climates of California and Arizona. Earl’s pomegranates are coming out of Los Banos and Madera in the Central San Joaquin Valley. The season typically runs from September to February.

The outside of a pomegranate is very hard and only the inside arils which cover the seeds in a red translucent material are edible.  It may seem like a lot of work to get to the arils, but it is well worth it. Cut off the top and bottom of the fruit, score the fruit and then open it into two halves. Place the halves in a bowl of water and use your fingers to gently separate the seeds from the white, spongy membrane. The inedible white membranes will float to the top of the water and leave you all the delicious arils at the bottom. Be careful not to get the juice on your hands and clothes because it will stain.

Click here to watch Earl’s IGTV video on how to cut and seed a pomegranate.

Look for pomegranates with a full bright red to dark red color. You also want fruit that feels heavy for their size, which means they are super juicy.  Drastic changes in temperature from cold to hot or rain can cause the fruit to crack. This is not a bad thing! In fact the fruit will be bursting with juice and ready to go!

Pomegranates are full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties which researchers believe may help to reduce high cholesterol and high blood pressure. We like to sprinkle pomegranate arils over a spinach salad. The green and red together make a beautiful salad during the holiday season.

Sweet Potatoes Are Not Yams

Sweet potatoes are commonly seen labeled as yams, when in reality they are most likely sweet potatoes. Many years ago the U.S. government decided to label sweet potatoes by their color to make things easier. The creamy white flesh ones are labeled sweet potatoes and the orange fleshed ones are sometimes labeled yams.  The USDA requires that sweet potatoes labeled as yams also be labeled as sweet potatoes. Chances are likely that you are buying sweet potatoes regardless of what the label says. Are you still confused?

In reality sweet potatoes and yams are two totally different vegetables.  Yams are tubers and are usually found imported in ethnic markets in the United States. They are originally from Africa, where over 95% of the world’s crop is harvested, and Asia.  Yams are grown in tropical climates and are very popular in Latin America and the Caribbean.  A few varieties can grow up to 7 feet in length and weigh almost 200 pounds! The skin of a yam is rough and scaly and the taste is very starchy.  Yams are toxic when raw and must be cooked to get rid of the toxins. They are an extremely important part in the diet of the people in Nigeria and West Africa.  Yams supply more than 200 calories per person per day for more than 150 million people in West Africa while also providing a necessary income for local farmers.  Yams are high in vitamin C and B and potassium and low in saturated fat and sodium.  The flavor can sometimes be sweeter than a sweet potato depending on the variety.

Sweet Potatoes are thought to originate in either Central or South America at least 5,000 years ago.  In the U.S. they are grown in temperate climate zones.  North Carolina is the largest producer of sweet potatoes followed by California, Louisiana and Mississippi.  In California 80% of the sweet potatoes are grown in Merced County followed by Fresno and Stanislaus County. When you sit down for the traditional American Thanksgiving dinner you will be eating sweet potatoes regardless of their color.

There are 5 main types of sweet potatoes grown. The orange flesh varieties become moist when cooked and the white flesh varieties become dry when cooked with a crumbly texture similar to a baked white potato. The Garnet is the classic sweet potato that most people think of when making mashed sweet potatoes, pies, cakes and breads.

  1. Red Skin/Orange Flesh (Varieties include Dianas, Reds & Garnets)
  2. Orange Skin/Orange Flesh (Varieties include the Beauregard, Covington & Jewel)
  3. White Skin/White Cream Flesh (Varieties include the O’Henry, Jersey Sweet, Hannahs or Hannah Golds)
  4. Red Skin/White Flesh (Japanese Sweet varieties include Murasaki and
    Kotobuki- most commonly referred to as “Orientals”. Also referred to as Satsumaimo in Japan)
  5. Red skin/Purple Flesh (Purple Stokes)

Storing Sweet Potatoes

  • Store sweet potatoes in a cool dark place.
  • Don’t store them in the refrigerator! Refrigeration will make the center of the sweet potato hard and it will cook unevenly.

Sweet potatoes are relatively low in calories and have no fat. They are rich in beta-carotene , having five times the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A in one sweet potato, as well as loaded with potassium. These nutrients help to protect against heart attack and stroke. Purple sweet potatoes are particularly rich in antioxidants called anthocyanins, also found in blueberries and pomegranates. This compound is best known for boosting immunity and thought to help fight cancer.  Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away.  Download Earl’s Sweet Potato Guide here.

Maitake Mushrooms

Thanksgiving is less than 3 weeks away and mushrooms is one of the top items on everyone’s menu. Offering a variety of delicious mushrooms has been proven to increase sales! Mycopia fresh specialty mushrooms are locally grown in Sebastopol on oak-based substrate in reusable bottles. After the mushrooms are harvested, the spent substrate is recycled and turned into compost that is highly prized by local farmers and wineries.

Maitake mushrooms have a delicate, rippling fan shape. Also known as Hen of the Woods, this wonderful mushroom variety has a fabulous forest aroma, rich woodsy flavor and a light, crunchy texture. In the wild, maitake can grow into huge heads over a foot in diameter. Mycopia’s small, delicate clusters present the mushroom’s best qualities at the peak of flavor.

Maitake Mushrooms growing in reusable containers www.mycopia.com

Maitakes are traditional in Asian cuisine, but its rich versatile flavor also finds complements with roasted meats and chicken, cheeses, dark leafy greens, and hearty grains. Use maitakes for a richer taste in any recipe calling for mushrooms. Try this delicious recipe with spinach, swiss chard, broccoli rabe or a mixture of your favorite greens!

Sautéed Maitake Frondosa Mushrooms with Pancetta and Greens


Maitake is at the top of the list of mushrooms used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and it is one of the better studied mushrooms in modern clinical trials. Maitake (and other mushrooms) are functional foods, good sources of micronutrients and active biological compounds that support a healthy immune system. Mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free and very low in sodium. Source: Mycopia.com

Find more recipes here: https://www.mycopia.com/recipes

Stay Healthy This Winter with Side Hill Satsumas

From our frame of reference Side Hill Citrus Satsumas from Lincoln, in the Sacramento foothills have the perfect mix of sweetness, tartness and low acidity, with very little pulp and no seeds. Rich Ferreira is a 4th generation farmer who started with only 75 trees back in 1975.  Rich has been certified organic since 1991 and now has over 2000 trees. The combination of a higher elevation of 600 feet, nutrient filled organic clay soil, warm summer days and cool nights and using a Satsuma Owari rootstock from China all contribute to growing consistently delicious Satsuma Mandarins year after year.

Satsumas, also called Mikans, are a Japanese variety brought to the US in 1878. Most citrus fruits originated in China and then made their way west which is where the word mandarin comes from.  In the United States Satsumas are grown in places where you wouldn’t normally expect citrus to grow. They need hot summers and a certain amount of chill hours in the winter and can tolerate low temperatures down into the 20’s.  Satsumas are grown in California in the thermal belt which runs from the San Joaquin Valley up to north of Sacramento.  They also grow in some southern states like Texas, Louisiana and Alabama where there are mild winters.

Satsumas have a loose peel that slips off effortlessly like a glove, with no mess and no seeds to deal with.  Satsumas are a perfect snack size that you can eat anywhere without the difficult peeling and complication that comes with eating a valencia or navel orange.

Satsuma Mandarins

Health Benefits:

A 2008 U.S. Department of Agriculture study said Satsumas have six to seven times as much synephrine, a natural decongestant, as other citrus. Four or five Satsumas have enough synephrine to equal the effect of a Sudafed tablet, the study said. Satsumas are also naturally low in calories and a single fruit contains 34 percent of the USDA daily recommendation for vitamin C.

Buying Satsumas:

Look for fruit with an aromatic smell, firm tight peel, no dented spots and a heavier fruit means they are juicier. They can be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator, but not for too long because prolonged storage can dry them out.

Degreening Citrus

As we know every commodity comes to market at different times of the year every year. California Valencia season historically runs through October.  Multiple extreme heat waves over the summer months, wind fall and a lower crop yield this year ended the Valencia crop earlier than usual, creating a gap in the citrus category.  

By late October California Navels begin to enter the market.  The navels being picked at this time do not have the beautiful orange color we normally associate with a navel orange. When warmer nights occur, citrus will mature with a green cast over the skin. What brings up color on citrus is the cold nights of the fall and winter that naturally transforms the preserved chlorophyll in the fruit from green to orange.  Summer fruit lacks the chill hours needed to bring on the orange color and we normally see the best color on navels starting in December.

To determine when to harvest, growers will test the brix, or sugar levels, of the fruit in order to decide if it is ready to eat.  If the sugar levels are too low the fruit will be left on the tree longer.  When the sugar levels are sufficiently “high”, but the outside of the fruit is green, this is caused by the lack of chill hours not yet achieved when harvesting at this time of year.

Growers can choose to leave the fruit on the tree longer to color up or some citrus growers will make the decision to harvest and degreen the citrus or color them up by gassing them with ethylene. This is the same process used to color up bananas in our banana rooms. Ethylene is an odorless, colorless, natural gas released by mature fruit such as apple and bananas. You can experiment at home by putting a piece of light colored citrus in a paper bag with an apple or banana and this will naturally color up the citrus. Need a ripe avocado?  Speed up the ripening process by placing an avocado and an apple or banana in a paper bag.

Degreening citrus has been practiced at least since the early 1960’s, especially on fruit coming out of Mexico or the southern hemisphere where the nights are warm, preventing fruit from coloring up to their full potential. Fruit with a green cast is picked into bins and pre-washed in the field. The following day the fruit bins are loaded into ethylene rooms with temperatures set at 70-80 degrees and a humidity level of 80%. The degreening process can take 1-4 days to achieve the desired color. After the fruit is removed from the degreening rooms it is aired out, run through the packing line and finally washed, graded, and packed.

This process also helps to identify any problematic fruit. Fruit with quality issues, especially from the recent rain, will be accelerated in the degreening process.  All visible problematic fruit is removed on the packing line, helping to make sure that the completed box has high quality fruit. The process of degreening or coloring up with ethylene is meant to produce the customary orange color of citrus.  

Earl’s Organic Buyer’s Notes October 24, 2021

Covilli has started up with their warm veg Fair Trade program out of Mexico! Zucchini is already here and looks beautiful. Green beans will start up slowly this week as well as Jalapenos. The first week of November we will see Poblano, Cherry Bomb, Eggplant, Grape Tomato and Acorn Squash. Download the Fair Trade Principles to share with your customers.

Eating habits change with the rain and cold weather.  Soups, stews, winter squashes and comfort food are on everyone’s mind. The roots category is bursting with your favorites: Celery Root, Parsnips, Rutabaga, Sunchokes and Purple Turnips! Thanksgiving is a month away and mushrooms are one of the top holiday dinner items. Download this week’s Buyer’s Notes and print up the full line of Far West Fungi Specialty Dried Mushrooms and Club Apple, Winter Squash ad Sweet Potato Guides!

Rain Causes Harvest Disruptions

Rain hit Northern California hard this past week, especially in the Salinas and Watsonville growing region, with heavy rain returning Sunday and Monday. Generally, for known weather events like this, growers will try to pick as much as they can prior but that is of course limited by time and labor. We will see lower volume on row crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, and leaf lettuces. The rain is expected to knock out most of the strawberry production in Watsonville and Salinas. We can expect harvest delays due to wet fields, possible post-harvest quality issues and even logistics snafus.  Prices will go up substantially based on lack of supply.

Covilli Fair Trade Certified Since December 2015

Covilli became Fair Trade Certified in December 2015. They are the first and only 100% Organic and 100% Fair Trade company in North America. Since December 2015 Covilli has sold over 29 million pounds of Fair Trade product! Thank you for voting with your dollars and contributing to the Fair Trade Premium. With those funds Covilli’s workers have completed 4 community projects and have another 3 in the works. See the projects below!

Covilli Fair Trade Premium Earned

2015 to date: $1,450,000.00

Earl’s contribution 2015 to date: $316,261.39

Why did Covilli decide to become Fair Trade Certified? Watch the Covilli Fair Trade Introduction now!

Covilli kicked off their season with zucchini in a big way and we will see Jalapenos next week. Green Beans will start up in a small way next week.  Early November we can look forward to Poblano and Cherry Bomb hot peppers, Eggplant, Grape Tomatoes and Acorn Squash.


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