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.
Prior to this we would have to continue to buy berries that are in storage from Chile. But the Family Tree Farms Mexican acreage means we not only get fruit that is freshly harvested but is found more than 4,000 miles closer to home. This aligns with our commitment to source the highest quality product and move closer to home as soon as possible. Supply will be limited at the start, but we expect to have enough berries by March 1 to be able to offer them for a special, reduced price. Family Tree Farms is expecting to start harvesting blueberries from their California farm as early as late March or early April.
The spring artichoke season has started in Castroville, Calif. Home to the truly original artichoke – with thorns and all – this variety has the best flavor and the biggest heart. The supply is limited for the next week or so on the jumbo sizes we like to offer. When it comes to artichokes, big is always better. Look for artichokes that are firm with tight leaves for best quality. If California gets frost over the next several weeks you may see some slight browning on the exterior of the choke, but this does not hurt the eating quality. Some say it actually improves it!
The spring asparagus season is at full steam in Mexico. The quality has been excellent this year thanks to warmer -than-normal temperatures in the growing areas. We hope to be able to move north to the California growing region as early as possible. There is some light production now, but the amount is so limited it is not feasible to make the move yet. At this point, it looks like early March. Look a little further forward, early forecasts is for Washington to start producing sometime mid-April. Hopefully just in time for the Easter holiday.
I hate to end on a bad note, but I need to mention that California growers are extremely concerned about fresh water supply. California is in its third year of drought with rain and snowfall well below normal. Growers have had their water allocations reduced again and are now at the point of making choices of what to grow and what not to grow based on the amount of water they have available and the return they can get for the crop they choose. All produce takes substantial amounts of water to grow. But, for example, melons use considerably more water than almonds. The dollars return per acre of almonds is much higher than that of melons. Consider what you pay for 35 pounds of almond vs. what you would pay for 35 pounds of cantaloupe. These family farms are second-, third- and, in some cases, fourth-generation farms with long histories growing food for our communities. They do not like to have to make these types of decisions, but they must survive financially in order to farm into the future. Modern farming practices in California have reduced water consumption by more than 50 percent over the years and they continue to look for better alternatives to ration their water allotment. The situation has reached a point where some areas may not even be planted in order to divert water to other areas.
(Lastly – I apologize for being silent for such a long period recently. Family matters pulled me away for the past several weeks. Things have settled down and it’s good to be back!)
Have a great day! Joe