Fresh Talker



On the Road Again:
From Earthbound Farms
to Grape Growers

I recently visited Earthbound Farms’ salad facility in central California and saw firsthand why they are our packaged organic salad company. At the top of the list is their strict food safety program. They not only test the product for any possible food contamination, but also the water and the ground in which the product begins before planting.

After harvest, all the products are tested for any potential health hazard and held for 24 hours before it’s allowed to enter the processing line. If any trace of possible contamination shows up, the entire lot is destroyed and completely removed from the system – not even sold as animal feed or compost.

All their salads are processed in a state-of-the-art facility where the environment is 100 percent controlled to ensure the highest standards in food safety and sanitation. Earthbound Farms is so committed to minimizing its footprint on the environment that it makes its own containers from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic, which is delivered to them so they can make the film and containers on site, ensuring the integrity of that statement.

Earthbound Farms takes organic farming seriously – it’s 100 percent certified organic and continues to add more acreage each year.

I left Earthbound and spent a day visiting grape growers in the San Joaquin Valley. I have to say the flavor future looks bright for grapes. All the grapes grown today stem from Old World European seeded varieties. Grapes with seeds have great flavor, but it’s no fun dealing with those seeds. We’ve ended up with plenty of sweet grapes in the pursuit of a seedless grape – but they’ve always been unimpressive when it comes to flavor.  But newer varieties have gotten bigger and sweeter. Some  even have a nice crispiness.

 

Some of the very best of the entire year are in our Markets now – Green Pristine, Black Autumn Royal and Krissy Red Seedless. Grape growers continue working to develop new varieties that offer both sweetness and flavor. After tasting more trial varieties than I care to mention, I think they have some home runs coming in the not-so-distant future. My favorite was a seedless Concord grape – absolutely awesome.

Here’s an insider bit – all seedless grapes actually DO have seeds. But in seedless varieties, the seeds die at a very early stage and thus, the grapes seem seedless. Developing new varieties is a very complicated scientific process. But if I had to break it down to a simple explanation, I’d put it this way: They hand pollinate different varieties, capture the immature seeds before they die, and use those seeds to develop a new variety.  The process is repeated until a viable variety with the preferred sugar, flavor, size and appearance is found that can be commercially produced. It takes time....
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NW Fire and (no) Rain
Dominate Crop News

Ironically it wasn’t rain that brought a fast end to the red raspberries, as I warned in my last post. It was actually that long stretch of dry heat. The fruit ripened all at once and we are now down to just a small trickle of berries. The blackberries will run a little longer than the raspberries, but not much. Luckily we were able to get through our Big Board Buys deal on the raspberries this past week, so I hope those of you who wanted to make preserves were able to get it done in spite of the heat.

You wouldn’t know it today – or tomorrow either from what I understand – but wow, what a heat wave that was. We experienced 11 straight days of temperatures above 80 degrees – many days it was well into the 90s.  The east side of the state has literally been burning up! Temperatures have been in the 100s and sadly, several forest fires are burning out of control. Hopefully, these cooler temps we’re now having will bring some much needed-relief to the firefighters working to bring these fires under control.

So now that we’re witnessing that early end to Sterino Farms’ raspberries and blackberries – let’s consider blueberries. That  harvest continues to move north. Most of the Oregon and Eastern Washington berries are winding down. We are just now moving into Skagit Valley fruit and soon will be moving to Canada to finish off this year’s fresh blueberry season. It’s hard to believe, but we are already getting quotes on new-crop apples from California, which is a clear sign that we will see some Northwest varieties arrive in just a few short weeks.

As for new fall crops already arriving, a new crop of Bartlett and Red Bartlett pears out of California arrived in our Markets this past week! Look for Northwest-grown pears to start arriving in early August.

Melons off California’s Turlock Farms melons are coming into their peak this coming week through about mid-August. We have added the Casaba, Crenshaw, Sharlyn and Hami to the lineup for a total of 13 different varieties of melons. As promised, Turlock’s Steve Smith has again delivered the most flavorful lineup of melons to be found – he’s really outdone himself this year!...
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The Tasty Highs
and Thirsty Lows
of Calif. Farm Tour

Last week was spent reaffirming our relationships with growers throughout California’s San Joaquin Valley – growers anyone would be happy to have as friends and business partners, an

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All Berries All the Time
with Cherries Closing In

 (The dynamic summer duo – blackberries and raspberries.)

While the first day of summer officially arrives Saturday morning (at 5:51 or 6:51, depending on who you believe), it’s well under way

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NW Berries and Cherries
Outstanding – and Early!

Let’s start with Northwest raspberries. While the Driscoll raspberries on this week’s Big Board Buys are very tasty – they taste like summer to me! – we all look forward to the local season, as well.

I visited our partner grower Jake Sterino at his Puyallup farm last Friday and his raspberries look great. In fact, we should be seeing our first Northwest red raspberries sooner than expected as they look to be about two weeks early this year.

The bad news is that it’s likely they’ll all come at once and end sooner than expected, as well. I suggest not waiting if you plan on making jams or jellies. Also we won’t have any in September this year. After several disappointing years, Jake has decided to not put in any late-season raspberries. The weather is just too unpredictable and raspberries simply don’t do well if we get rain....
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The Good News Grows
in All Things Berry

Let’s start off with berries!

When it comes to strawberries from California, it’s been challenging to say the least.  Excessive heat has been really wreaking havoc with the shelf life of those berries – they’re as sweet as can be, but they don’t hold up for very long. I think the organic strawberries actually do better, and have been the better choice over the past couple weeks. With hot weather blasting the growing areas now, we’ll have to keep a close eye on new arrivals.

When it comes to blueberries, we’re now hitting the peak of the California season. You’ll see us shift our attention to these blue babies in our Produce Markets for the next couple weeks. Look for Oregon blueberries to be early this year – early June!

I’ve got more good news …. California’s red raspberries are showing up good and tasty – and the eating quality continues to improve with every delivery. But even better is that the Northwest raspberry crop is looking great. According to our grower Jake Sterino of Sterino Farms in the Puyallup Valley,  the season should start in early July and be a good one, barring any unfortunate weather event (fingers crossed).

And in Other Fruit News

As far as other fruit in California, the season is off to an early start for cantaloupe, seedless grapes, peaches, nectarines and apricots. In the stone fruit world, all indications are for the California season to unfold two weeks earlier than in years past. So look for some of the best varieties of yellow- or white-flesh peaches and nectarines to arrive sooner than you may have expected.

I’d especially like to call attention to the organic cantaloupe from Goldie Farms, which should arrive just in time for Memorial Day weekend. We have a few in the Markets already and they have excellent flavor, which will only get better with each delivery. Speaking of melons for the holiday, if the cantaloupe doesn’t float your boat, we do have those great tasting seedless watermelons from Pasque Farms in Arizona. This year we will also offer the seeded version of the Pasque watermelons for those who still like to spit seeds!...
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Ready for Mom’s Day
from Floral to Produce

Let’s start with “What’s for Mom?” in our Flower Shops.

I hope this isn’t news to you, but Mother’s Day is May 11 (plenty of time!). Our Flower shops just received a wide assortment of really gorgeous fuchsia and “Mixed Color” hanging baskets from DeGoede Brothers in Sumner, Wash.

All baskets are tried and true and 100 percent Northwest grown from this longtime trusted growing partner (they provide our poinsettias during the holidays). All our hanging baskets are grown in the larger 12- to 14-inch pots to better support the plants through the summer months with a greater volume of soil than in the standard 10-inch pots.

Our Markets in Kitsap County also will have baskets from Sally at Blue Star Nursery in Poulsbo.

Keep in mind that, as a general rule, you’ll want fuchsias for shady spots and the mixed color for sunny spots.  If you’re not sure, or you want some tips on keeping it alive and thriving, ask one of our knowledgeable Floral team members – they’re glad to help. We also have a wide selection of “color bowls” and cut flowers. You can create your own bouquet, ask us to create something just for you and your mom, or select from the many hand-made bouquets we’ve put together....
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Berry Season Heats Up
as Citrus Winds Down

The California citrus season is rapidly winding down. The eating quality of what we have is outstanding, but will not be around for much longer. The increasingly popular Sumo mandarins have finished shipping and our last deliveries will be arriving in our Markets Thursday, April 17. We hope these will last through next week, but be forewarned – supply is limited to what we have and they will go fast!

California strawberries have finally completed their transition from the Santa Marie growing area in the south – moving 175 miles north to Watsonville, just south of San Jose. This move will give a little longer shelf life to these great-tasting berries.

Speaking of transitioning berries, Family Tree Farms blueberries will be in moving from their Mexico growing area to California over the next few weeks. We expect to have an excellent supply by mid-May, if not sooner.

Several summer fruit and veggie options are on the horizon – something we’ve been looking forward to! We soon will have our first deliveries of sweet corn from G&S Farms out of their southern California growing areas. The plan is to harvest this Friday with delivery to our Markets Monday morning. Only white corn is available at first, followed by yellow and bi-color in a week or two....
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Rain, Rain Everywhere
But Drought Remains

While the California rain storms have managed to cause property damage and disrupt the state’s vegetable and berry harvest, they still haven’t put an end to the severe drought that plagues this major agricultural state.

Rain finally hit drought-stricken California growing regions this past week in a big and destructive way. Overall, it was a welcome and long overdue drenching of the area that is experiencing the worst drought in nearly a century, but it was too much too fast. Vegetable and strawberry harvests came to a swift halt on Wednesday, Feb. 26, and remained so through the

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Sumo Mandarins
Arrive Tomorrow!

Great news! Sumo mandarins arrive in the markets tomorrow (Feb. 20)! It hasn’t been an easy feat – a bad freeze that hit California’s citrus-growing areas in December resulted in a 30 percent loss of fruit due to frost damage.  This is placing even more demand on an already limited supply of fruit, so growers are carefully arranging distribution. This is a great example of why we establish partnerships with our growers – because of our relationship with this farm over the past few years, we will get our fair share of fruit. The other good news is that even though the frost caused damage, cold weather is actually good for flavor in citrus crops. So although the season may be short this year, it will be sweet! Sumos are virtually seedless, easy to peel and full of flavor.

We are expecting our first arrivals of the new blueberry crop from the Mexican farm of Family Tree Farms. You might ask: ‘Why Mexico?’ This move from Chile to Mexico is only possible because of Dave Jackson of Family Tree Farms of California. Five years ago, Dave seized an opportunity to produce his proprietary blueberry varieties on 250 acres in an area of Mexico with pristine water. Each variety is selected for its large sizes and crisp, sweet flavor....
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