Farmers Cautiously Optimistic About El Niño’s Arrival

dead and live treeAs forecasters grow more confident of a wet El Niño year ahead farmers are cautiously optimistic. Another winter of below normal precipitation could be disastrous for our state’s agricultural industry.
Regardless of whether or not the drought ends in the coming months, we believe that one of the ongoing lessons of the drought is how we are all dependent upon a finite resource whose availability is fundamentally outside of our control and how important it is to manage that resource wisely.

Four years of crippling drought has endangered the livelihoods of almost 78,000 farmers in California, but the promise of an El Niño year brings hope to drought-stricken farms. The current rain deficit has major implications for our food supply and could lead to rising prices for fruit, nuts, and other commodities. More than half of California’s agricultural crop value comes from its production of fruit and tree nuts, which is almost 60% of total US fruit and tree nut farm values, not to mention vegetable row crops. Shortages in groundwater used to irrigate will increase production costs or force farmers to reduce acreage, likely raising fruit prices for years to come.

But even the promise of a wet winter brings potential threats. Farmers hope for light to moderate rainfall over a long period of time so it can soak into the ground, without heavy rains that flood the surface and run off. Some farmers are also worried that heavy rains during the spring planting season could delay when they are able to set new crops in the ground.

Bautista fallow fieldFor the last few years, farms like Bautista Ranch in Stockton have curtailed water usage. Acreage has been sacrificed by letting fields go fallow and by not watering large sections of their orchards, causing many of their trees die.

But along with sacrificing crops, small farmers have doubled their efficiency of agricultural water use. Drip irrigation has grown rapidly and has almost replaced gravity irrigation as a method of watering crops. This will have far reaching implications for the future of California’s agriculture.

One El Niño year will not end the drought, considering it has been dry for several years, but it will certainly help the water deficit. Let’s all hope for a wetter than normal winter and spring – and a return to regular rainfall in years to come.

Best Picks – 5 Tips for Selecting Watermelon

yellow melonJust like the name says, watermelon is about 95% water. Most melons come to market at around 10 to 15 pounds, but can grow as large as 100 pounds. There are now many hybrid watermelons, a lot different than the ones you grew up with. Some are oblong, some round, some dark green, some striped. And the flesh is not just bright pink anymore, but now some have gorgeous yellow or pale orange interiors. It all makes for a very interesting summer – deciding which ones to try.

5 Tips for Selecting, Storing, and Using Watermelon

  1. Choose one that is heavy for its size and has a nice deep solid sound when thumped.
  2. Choose one that has a pale yellow patch (not soft or moldy!) on one side of it. This indicates it was left on the vine to ripen and not picked before it was ready, meaning it will be the sweetest.
  3. Store in the refrigerator whole. Or if it is too large, cut into pieces (Wash before cutting) and wrap tightly with plastic wrap, then store in the refrigerator. It is best if used within a week.
  4. When ready to eat, wash rind thoroughly. Cut down the center with a large knife. Be careful! Cut into wedges or cubes.
  5. Use in salads, make fruit skewers, place wedges on the grill, or just eat a big juicy wedge! Try the Watermelon Granita that our Chef Sarah made for a nice cool taste of summer!

Watermelon-Granita1

Enjoy the sweet flavor of summer in a big slice of cold watermelon. They should be available at your farmers’ market through September.

Best Picks: The Luscious O’Henry Peach

OhHenryPeaches-webThere are more than 2,000 peach varieties throughout the world, but here in California, late August is the time to pick up some O’Henry peaches. This late summer peach is a sensory delight with a sweet juicy flavor, a deep orange red outer skin with peaking tones of orange underneath, and inner flesh of light orange streaked with red and with a smooth texture.  The skin has less fuzz and can be eaten without peeling. It is a favorite of many peach lovers because of its slightly acidic sweetness, without the cloying heavy sweetness of some varieties of peaches.
It is a freestone peach, meaning that when cut open, the pit comes easily away from the flesh. It’s an excellent peach for canning and for jams because of its complex flavor that holds up well when cooked. It is also a firm peach that stands up to canning. Its natural sweetness mixed with its slight acid flavor means you can use less sugar when canning – and that’s a good thing! It also makes a great pie because it slices well and and offers complex flavors.  Once peeled, it freezes well and can be used up to six months later.
Widely grown commercially in California, these peaches are a winner for taste, texture, and usability. Pick some up at your local farmers’ market real soon because the season for these spectacular peaches is short, running only through September.

Here are some quick and easy ways to enjoy
luscious O’Henry peaches:
  1. Salad: Peel, pit, and toss with spinach, pecans, mild goat cheese, and a light vinaigrette.
  2. Grill: Toss pitted peach halves on the grill for about 5 to 10 minutes, serve with whipping cream or vanilla ice cream for a fresh dessert.
  3. Can It: Get out the canning jars and fill with peeled peach quarters in very light syrup. Enjoy a taste of summer in the cold winter months!
  4. Mixed Fruit: Toss with other late summer fruits such as berries, plums, and grapes. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice (to avoid fruit discoloration) and just a touch of sugar or honey.
  5. Peach Pie! And last but not least, make a peach pie! Get out the family cookbook and fill that pie shell with luscious O’Henry peaches!

5 Things to Know About Shelling Beans

1119836_562173737162990_1961080433_oShelling beans come in large pods, much larger than the green bean style of shell. Their pods are thicker and drier and the beans inside are much larger. Fresh shelling beans, like cranberry beans (photo above) or Italian butter beans are in season and available from July to September or October.

Things to Know:

  1.  Beans are among the first foods domesticated, and archaeologists have found evidence of their widespread use in the Mediterranean and Americas from as early as 9,000 B.C.
  2. Popular varieties include fava (broad) beans, cranberry (borlotti) beans, lima beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), black beans, and scarlet runner beans.
  3. Shelling beans should be slightly dried out when you buy them. When purchased too fresh, the beans inside will not be mature enough. Look for pods that look freshly picked but starting to dry out and have a fresh green stem end.
  4. Choose shelling beans that feel heavy for their size. Bumpy pods with plump, fat beans inside are the ones to choose and will be the easiest to pull open and pop the beans out.
  5. Fresh shell beans can be prepared in the same ways as their dried counterparts, but take less time to cook. Most fresh shelling beans require 20 to 30 minutes to cook, so add them to recipes accordingly.

Cranberry Beans with Garlic & Sage
1 pound fresh cranberry beans in their pods
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 large leaves fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Shell the cranberry beans. Peel and crush the garlic clove. Heat a medium pot or large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup olive oil, cranberry beans, garlic, sage leaves, salt, and pepper to the pot along with 1/2 cup water. Bring to a simmer, cover, reduce heat to low, and cook—stirring every 10 to 15 minutes, adding water if needed—until beans are tender and flavors are fully blended, about 90 minutes.

3rd Annual Photo Contest Is On!

LMM---IG---July-2015---Option2Join Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association (PCFMA), the USDA, and farmers’ markets around the country in celebrating National Farmers’ Market Week this year from August 2nd to 8th. “Farmers’ markets play a key role in developing local and regional food systems that support farmers and help grow rural economies,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “They bring communities together, connecting cities with the farms and providing Americans with fresh, healthy food.”

PCFMA will celebrate throughout the entire month of August with the 3rd annual #lovemyPCFMAmarket Photo Contest. To participate, snap a photo of what you love about your local PCFMA farmers’ market, whether it is the unusual produce, your favorite farmer, being with your family, or anything else farmers’ market related. Submit the photo to lovemymarket@pcfma.org or post the photo on your public Instagram or Facebook page using #lovemyPCFMAmarket between August 1st and August 31st. Please include the name of your farmers’ market in your email or caption. Be sure to tag us on Instagram or Facebook! Please limit one entry per person, per week. See official rules at pcfma.org/contestrules.

Contestants will have a chance to win the Grand Prize of a one-night stay for two at the Capay Valley Bed & Breakfast and tickets to the nearby Hoes Down Festival at Full Belly Farm. Second prize is two tickets to the Guest Chef Series: The Chef & The Winemaker at Wente Winery in Livermore. Third prize includes $50 in “Carrot Cash” (good at any PCFMA farmers’ market) and a reusable bag filled with fresh seasonal produce.

Come join the conversation and send us your favorite market photos!

Will El Niño End California’s Drought?

It seems like everywhere I go these days people are talking about “El Niño.” From my sister-in-law commenting on the unusual warmth of Monterey Bay where she scuba dives, to San Francisco city staff planning Super Bowl events in February of next year; the warmth of the ocean and its potential to bring rains that may end California’s ongoing drought are hot topics.

20150728_CA_drought_small
Diagram shows intensity of drought throughout California. For more details, click on image (courtesy of droughtmonitor.unl.edu/).

At PCFMA we are anxiously poring over long-term weather outlooks as well. For the health of our state’s agricultural industry we know that we need more rain to fall, even though that may mean a winter of rainy market days. While we advertise that our farmers’ markets operate rain or shine we do close farmers’ markets in cases of severe weather to keep our market managers, farmers, and customers safe. While a winter of heavy rains would be inconvenient, another winter of below normal rain could be disastrous.

Regardless of whether or not the drought ends in the coming months, we believe that one of the ongoing lessons of the drought is how we are all dependent upon a finite resource whose availability is fundamentally outside of our control and how important it is to manage that resource wisely.

A more unfortunate lesson of this drought is how easy it is to demonize others. Urban areas complain of farmers using too much water, farmers complain of water diversions to sustain fisheries, and the house with the greenest lawn on the block goes from being the subject of envy to being an object of derision. Too often, in this type of environment, facts and solutions can be lost in a flood of hype and hysteria.

In the coming months PCFMA is hoping to help spur dialogue on the subject of water use by highlighting examples that are working in residential communities and on farms. Rather than demonizing anyone, we are hoping instead to inspire everyone. In the coming weeks I will even be sharing through our PCFMA blogs some of my own attempts at water conservation in my home.

Our work to address the drought is guided by the input of over 1,400 PCFMA farmers’ market shoppers who responded to an online survey, sharing with us their knowledge about the drought and its impact and their familiarity with water management strategies used by smaller scale farmers. We are incredibly appreciative of the time that each of these shoppers took to share their thoughts with us. You can read more about their responses to the survey on our website’s blog and in this month’s edition of Market Thymes.

Thanks for all that you are doing to support California’s small farmers as they struggle to sustain their farm businesses in this time of drought. I am confident that working together we can outlast these challenges until the real storms arrive.

I look forward to seeing you in the market soon.

Allen-Signature

Allen J. Moy
Executive Director

Pick of the Week – 5 Ways to Use Figs

20150725_103614Figs were brought to California by the Spanish missionary fathers who first planted them at the San Diego Mission in 1759. Fig trees were then planted at each succeeding mission, going north through California. The Mission fig, California’s leading black fig, takes its name from this history.

There are literally hundreds of fig varieties, but only about a half dozen are grown commercially in California. During a normal year, the season for the first crop of fresh Mission figs grown in the San Joaquin Valley begins in early to mid June and lasts approximately two weeks. The second crop of Mission figs, as well as other varieties, including Calimyrna and Kadota fig are available mid-July. Brown Turkey figs may be available as early as late-May through December.

5 Tasty Ways to Use Figs

  • Cut in half lengthwise, brush with olive oil, and toss on the grill.
  • Cut in half lengthwise, top with a bit of goat cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or honey, and broil until goat cheese melts.
  • Add chopped figs and chopped, cooked pancetta or bacon to a simple tossed green salad.
  • Finely chop figs and toss, salt to taste. Let the figs sit while you cut baguette slices and toast them. Top the toasts with the fig mixture and a grind or two of freshly ground black pepper.
  • Make a slit in the side of each fig. Stuff a bit of your favorite blue cheese into the fig. Serve as is or broil/grill for a few minutes.

Buying and Storing Fresh Figs
Fresh figs are very perishable and should be kept refrigerated. The skin of figs is fragile, and often scars during the growing period from the leaves rubbing against the fruit. These marks do not hurt the flesh inside at all. Recommended storage temperature is 32-36º F. Use figs as soon as possible. Under ideal conditions, fresh figs will store for up to five to seven days, or frozen in a sealed bag for up to six months.

Find out more about fresh figs from California Fresh Figs.

Survey Results Reveal Concern for Small Farmers in Drought

EmailHeader-for-droughtAs the drought continues to worsen, many water-use limitations and regulations are being enforced upon all California residents and businesses – including the state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions. Many California residents are arguing that agriculture is not being held to the same water restriction standards. Popular media sources have published that agriculture uses about 80% of the state’s surface water, in most cases irresponsibly. Meanwhile, many in the agricultural industry wonder if communities are fully “doing their part” in reducing residential water-use.

Recognizing these two contrasting views and sentiments, Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association (PCFMA) hopes to help bridge the gap by organizing a campaign that opens a dialogue between communities (farmers’ market shoppers) and agriculture (PCFMA’s farmers), allowing for a greater understanding of how both groups are working to conserve water. In addition, PCFMA hopes to educate the public on how small California farms are responsibly adapting to become more efficient with the state’s most precious resource, and are struggling to survive due to the lack of sufficient funds and access to water. Supporting these water-conscious, small farms by shopping at your local farmers’ market is a simple means of helping the state better endure this historic drought.

Before PCFMA could develop its campaign, a survey was needed to research and gauge the farmers’ market customers’ interest and concern for the drought and the role small farms play. The short online survey was distributed through a majority of PCFMA’s e-newsletter lists and social media outlets, concluding with over 1,400 responses.

PCFMA found that farmers’ market shoppers are aware of the drought, but are unaware of and would like to learn more about the water saving methods currently being used by California’s small farms.

  • 98% of respondents reported that they are aware of the drought and 80% of those responses indicated a “very aware” level. Survey results also revealed that a majority of the respondents believe California agriculture uses between 61-80% of the state’s water each year.
  • In spite of how much water farmers’ market shoppers believe agriculture to use, 90% of respondents still find it important to support small California farms during this difficult time. This is reflected by a Santa Teresa Farmers’ Market shopper who said, “If consumers were more aware that small family farmers are taking steps to conserve water, it would become another selling point – purchasing locally-grown, responsibly-watered produce.”
  • The fear of potentially losing small farms due to the drought was clearly conveyed by farmers’ market shoppers throughout the survey.   72% of respondents are conscious of the impacts of drought on small farms with 90% aware of reduction in operations and 76% aware of the loss of jobs. A big concern of 92% of respondents is the threat of small farms being bought up or operated by large corporate farming ventures. A shopper who frequents the E. Santa Clara St. Farmers’ Market stated that she is most anxious about “a reduction in crop diversity, a reduction in sustainable/organic/non-GMO options, and an increase in produce prices,” which summarizes the main concerns expressed by most of our respondents.
  • 84% of respondents are interested in learning more about how farmers are doing their part to conserve water, and 78% are interested in learning how they can save water themselves in their own home and garden.

It is encouraging to see that there is an awareness of the potential effects of losing small California farms due to the drought. From this information, PCFMA is developing a campaign in which farmers who participate in PCFMA’s farmers’ markets will share their stories with the public, open a conversation on how small California farms are working to be more water-responsible, and create an understanding of how collectively consumers and agriculture can be a solution to the over-consumption of our state’s precious water resources. A Castro Farmers’ Market customer said that there should be a “fair, full voice” for small farms and PCFMA can help amplify that voice.

If you belong to a group, organization, or company that has nonpartisan, drought-related information or demonstrations and would like to be featured at any of our markets or shared through PCFMA’s drought education efforts, please contact Alyssia Plata, PCFMA Marketing Specialist at drought@pcfma.org.

5 Ways to Eat Cantaloupe

melonsIt’s melon season and there’s nothing better than the sweet taste of cantaloupe. Selecting a cantaloupe is easy. Look for:

  1. Prominent cream-colored ridges
  2.  Stem end should be smooth
  3. Sweet, musky aroma

Easy Cantaloupe Recipes
Other melons can be substituted for cantaloupe – Crenshaw, honeydew, watermelon, etc. will all work.

  1. Cantaloupe kabobs – Make balls with a melon baller. Skewer alternating small mozzarella balls, cantaloupe balls and chunked avocado.
  2. Cantaloupe wraps – Wrap slices of cantaloupe with good quality prosciutto.
  3. Grilled cantaloupe – Place big slices of cantaloupe on the grill or in the broiler for salads or side dishes. Grilling caramelizes the fruit.
  4. Cantaloupe salsa – Chop cantaloupe, cilantro, jalapeno, red onion, avocado, and red bell pepper in a bowl. Add squeeze of lime juice, salt and pepper. Serve over fish or shrimp – or get out the tortilla chips!
  5. Shaved melon salad – Slice melon with a mandolin into thin strips. In a bowl, toss melon with small chunks of feta cheese and sliced red onion. Add a bit of cracked black pepper, if desired. Serve chilled.

Recipes by PCFMA Staff.

PCFMA Blogs – pcfma.com