September 05, 2014

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.

Some of the new varieties that are showing promise offer an exceptional eating experience. You may have heard of – and hopefully tasted – the “Cotton Candy” and “Witches Finger” seedless grapes in our Markets. These are just the tip of the iceberg as far as what we will see over the next several years. And just to set your mind at ease, these are not GEO (Genetically Engineered Organisms). The methods of “high-breeding” being used are similar to what the apple and stone fruit growers have been doing for years.

Speaking of apples, the Northwest harvest is well under way. The new crop of Gala, Honeycrisp, Red Gravenstein and Sweet Tango apples are already in the Markets. Arriving soon are the Jersey Golden Delicious, Jonagold and Fuji. So far so good – it looks like it is going to be a great apple season. All we are waiting for now are those cool autumn evenings. We need warm days and cool nights to color up the apples and apply the finishing touch before harvest.

The new crop of Northwest pears is also showing up. Bartlett, Red Starkrimson and Comice have already arrived and we expect D’Anjou and Bosc to arrive any day.

Chanterelle mushrooms continue to ramp up. The supply improves each week and I expect we’ll have enough to be able to offer them at a reduced price. Lobster mushrooms are not as plentiful as the chanterelles, but we should have at least a limited supply over the next several weeks. Lobster mushrooms get their name from the vibrant burnt orange color and firm texture.

Another sign that autumn is near is the variety of hard winter squashes that is well under way. Look for several new varieties to become available over the next few weeks – another item that I expect to be plentiful enough to offer at a reduced price.

I know the calendar says the official start to fall is only a couple weeks away, but let’s not give up on the summer fruit we still have available! Peaches from Eastern Washington’s Gunkel Orchards are still going strong and Dan Gunkel says he’ll be harvesting through this month. None of his peaches are held in storage.

The red, black and green seedless grapes are the biggest and best of the year and will continue well into October. The Turlock Melons are winding down fast, but cantaloupe and honeydew will be plentiful through September. Now and then we may see an isolated opportunity on the Turlock orange Honeydew for the next week or so.

The Keitt mango has had a fast and furious season this year. We are already seeing supply dwindle and expect them to be completely done within the next two weeks. So if you’ve been holding onto a mango recipe to try, you’d best do it quickly!

Organic fresh figs have been exceptional this year. Beware – it’s another item that will begin to wind down quickly in the next week or so.

Last, but not least, in celebration of the Northwest organics season, we’ll be placing extra emphasis on Northwest certified organically grown items Sept. 19-16.

I’d like to finish with a heartfelt THANK YOU for all your support over these past few months. I believe the summer season in the Northwest is like none other in the world and this has been a great one!

Have a great week! Joe

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