July 02, 2014

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, and whose commitment to growing high-quality fruits and vegetables is second to none.

My first stop was Family Tree Orchards near Dinuba, followed by Homegrown Organics in Strathmore, Turlock Farms’ melon fields in Firebaugh and Durst Organic Growers in Esparto. I finished up in Brentwood with Glen Stonebarger of G&S Farms, where we checked out the sweet corn being harvested for this Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Each and every stop reinforced why we have relationships with these particular growers. Not only are they good, down-to-earth people but – WOW – are they growing some great-eating items that are arriving in the markets as we speak.

Before I go into that, I need to mention a concern I heard at each and every farm I toured – water. California’s historic drought is the single greatest issue facing these growers today, and threatens to turn the valley – described as “the nation’s salad bowl,” into a dust bowl. Ironically, the limited water supply has taken a bit of pressure off the second greatest concern – labor to harvest and pack crops – because the drought has forced nearly all farmers to make hard choices around what and how much they plant.

For example, Jim Durst elected to not grow zucchini and melon varieties this year in order to devote his water resources to asparagus, heirloom tomatoes and those great-tasting cherry tomato varieties we have in our Markets. The acreage supporting organic cantaloupe and mini watermelon for Turlock Farms was reduced by about 25 percent.  G&S did not do a second planting in one area where they face water restrictions during the second half of the growing season.

I was surprised to learn in these conversations just how much water some of these crops require – about 60 gallons to grow one average-size cantaloupe, 110 gallons for a single pound of asparagus and up to 95 gallons to get a pound of cherries. Many growers are trying to dig their own wells, but there’s such a demand that it likely won’t happen this year unless they contracted with drillers last year.  Regardless, more wells are not the answer as they are draining the aquifer more rapidly than ever, and even the valley itself is sinking as farmers dig deeper. Parts of the valley sank as much as 28 feet decades ago due to over pumping.

Hopefully, the El Nino winter that is forecast this year will produce the rain and snow pack needed to replenish reservoirs and the aquifer for the 2015 growing season. If not, it’s said there will be even more cutbacks in crop planting and the loss of fruit tree orchards. Let’s all hope for a wet, cold winter!

Enough doom and gloom. Let’s talk good news. The “peach pie donut peaches” are in the Markets today. Despite its name, this peach is not for making pie. It was named by Daniel Jackson of Family Tree Orchards because it reminded him of the pies his grandma made when he was growing up.

It is great grilled and topped with ice cream. Even better, check out this video and use the snickerdoodle cookies in our Bakeries as the base: http://bit.ly/1o2kpxa

but be forewarned, this season is winding down also. Early starts mean early ends!  We expect our first Washington-grown peaches from Gunkel Orchards around July 15, with nectarines following a week or so later.

Cantaloupe, orange and green honeydews and galia melons all arrive from Turlock Farms in time for our holiday weekend. They’re all sweet and flavorful, but the orange honeydews are my personal favorite!  We’ll also see Turlock’s organic cantaloupe (these are simply incredible – that picture above was shot in the field last week) and mini seedless watermelons.

Check out the organic peaches arriving in our Markets tomorrow (July 3) from Homegrown Organics. This low-acid, high-sugar, yellow-flesh peach (pictured below – shot on the farm last week) is called Sweet Dream and it more than lives up to its name – large, sweet and juicy! If you would like a sample please ask, we would be happy to let you taste this incredible fruit.

Closer to home, berries are here from Sterino Farms in Puyallup. The golden raspberries and tayberries are winding down, but the red raspberries and blackberries are moving into their peak. Now through the next two weeks, both supply and quality will be excellent. Like I mentioned last week, the season will come and go faster than we think this year. If you plan on freezing or making preserves for the long winter ahead, your best opportunity is over the next two weeks. Don’t wait too long – here in the Northwest you never know when rain will bring an early end to the berry season!  

Have a great day! – Joe



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