Artichokes, the Official Vegetable of California

In 2013, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom named the artichoke the official vegetable of California. Considering that virtually 100% of the artichokes in the US come from California and because of their rise in popularity over the years, it was a wise decision.

chokeNearly two-thirds of the state’s crop of artichokes comes from the area around Castroville and Salinas, with the remainder growing further south. The moderate climate with cool summers and mild winters, as well as the cooling fog make for ideal growing conditions. And with these conditions, California can offer two crops per year, the spring yield and the fall/winter crop. The Green Globe cultivar comprises the majority of commercial cultivation, but there are several varieties from which to choose at your local farmers’ market. The artichoke is offered in sizes from large to “baby” and even a purple artichoke variety is available.

Artichokes have to be harvested by hand, a very labor-intensive proposition. Baskets of artichokes are sorted by size and type, then packed and brought to the markets fresh each week. Harvesting for the spring crop is from March to May, while the fall/winter crop is from September to December.

Fall and winter artichokes may be darker or bronze-tipped or have a whitish, blistered appearance due to exposure to light frost. This is called “winter-kissed.” These frost-kissed artichokes are considered to be the most tender and with intense flavor. Spring varieties are tender and sweet.

Small farmers are developing new varieties all the time, but here are some of the more available cultivars you will see at your local farmers’ market:

globe artichoke Green Globe
This is the most common artichoke; globe-shaped, green with some purple as its base and has prominent thorns; mild and nutty in flavor. Peaks in March and April.

 

Desert Globe
Winter variety. Not as thorny, compact is size; nutty flavor. Peaks in early spring.

imperial star artichokeBig Heart
Thornless variety, conical in shape, with purple tinge at its base. Usually available year-round, but peaks in the fall. Good rich flavor with wide “heart.”

 

Imperial Star
Thornless variety with a glossy green color, conical in shape, well-developed hearts, good artichoke flavor. Peak production in the spring.

purple artichokePurple
Gorgeous purple color in a wide variety of different cultivars; rich nutty flavor; available in spring.

 

Jerusalem artichokeJerusalem Artichokes
These are not artichokes at all, but from a different group of the sunflower family. They are tubers, also called sunchokes. Generally available through the fall.

 

How to Buy:
Choose artichokes which are vibrant and free of discoloration. Make sure that they are tightly closed — an artichoke that has begun to open will have a tough and undesirable texture. To ensure a fresh artichoke always check the bottom of the stem as it is a good indication of when the vegetable was harvested.

How to Store:
For the best flavor eat artichokes within a few days of purchasing as they lose their flavor intensity over time.

How to Prepare:
Chef Mario Hernandez offers this article on how to “turn” an artichoke.”

TIP: Artichokes do not pair well with wines because they contain cynarin, a chemical that enhances the perception of sweet flavors.

Asian Citrus Psyllid Detected in San Jose

Leaf damage from Psyllid

The time for citrus is coming soon. The winter months provide us with local oranges and tangerines and more, but the crop could be in jeopardy with the significant finding of the citrus psyllid in Santa Clara County.

The Santa Clara County Agricultural Commissioner, in cooperation with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is beginning an extensive survey in response to the detection of Asian citrus psyllids (ACP) in the City of San Jose near Kelly Park.  This is the first detection of ACP in Santa Clara County and the Bay Area.

The ACP were detected in a residential neighborhood near Phelan Avenue and Roberts Avenue in San Jose. Treatment activities will be carried out on all citrus plants surrounding the sites where the insects were trapped.  Residents in the treatment area will be notified in advance of any activity.  Additionally, an increased number of traps have been deployed and a visual survey is ongoing on the surrounding properties in an attempt to determine if there is an infestation.

“The Asian citrus psyllid is a dangerous pest of citrus,” said Joe Deviney, Santa Clara County Agricultural Commissioner.  “We’re working to determine the full extent of this infestation so that we can protect our state’s vital citrus industry as well as our backyard citrus trees.  We want to emphasize citrus is safe to eat and the disease is not harmful to human health.  Working together we can prevent the harm this invasive species can cause.”

Adult citrus psyllid

The ACP is an invasive species of grave concern because it can carry the disease huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening.  All citrus and closely related species are susceptible hosts for both the insect and the disease.  There is no cure once a tree becomes infected, the diseased tree will decline in health and produce bitter, misshaped fruit until it dies. HLB has been detected just once in California – in 2012 on a single residential property in Hacienda Heights, Los Angeles County. HLB is present in Mexico and in parts of the southern U.S.  Florida first detected ACP in 1998 and the disease in 2005, and the two have now been detected in all 30 citrus-producing counties in that state.  The University of Florida estimates the disease has tallied more than 6,600 lost jobs, $1.3 billion in lost revenue to growers and $3.6 billion in lost economic activity.

Check your trees at home and be vigilant in letting the CDFA know if you have spotted what you think is the citrus psyllid. Check with your local Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County. Residents in the area who think they may have seen the pest are urged to call the Pest Hotline at 1-800-491-1899.  For more information on the Asian citrus psyllid and huanglongbing disease, please visit: www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/acp

Old Apple Varieties are New Again

After almost disappearing, apple varieties that were popular 30 to 40 years ago are making a comeback! People were tired of uniformly shaped, waxed and shiny, generic and tasteless apples. Today there are more than 450 apple growers in the state of California. California currently ranks as the country’s fourth highest apple producing state. And many of these farmers are returning to growing heirloom (antique) varieties, full of flavor and texture. Hillview Farms, who participates in the Danville Farmers’ Market, offers over 100 varieties of heirloom apples. These heirloom varieties are prized for their flavor and not for their shipability and shelf life.Vallejo-new-years-34-apples

For many years there have been small pockets of heirloom apple growing regions, from the town of Julian  and Oak Glen in Southern California, to Lodi, to See Canyon near San Luis Obispo. Up in Northern California there is the famous Gravenstein growing region near Sebastopol and The Apple Farm near Philo. There’s even “Apple Hill” in Camino where all kinds of apples are grown. These areas have become major tourist attractions in the autumn months. Visitors have learned to discriminate between a delightfully sweet or tart heirloom and those that are abundant in the supermarkets. These apples have fun and interesting names like Limbertwig, Jonagold, Chieftain, Heaven Sent, Spitzenberg, and Black Amish, and they all have very distinct, very flavorful tastes.

This fall, visit some of the local heirloom apple farms and pick some of the wonderful antique apples that have been brought back to life. Or visit your local farmers’ market where they offer a nice range of these tasteful fall fruits.

 

Farmers’ Market Photo Contest Winners Announced!

Congratulations to our three 2nd Annual Farmers’ Market Photo Contest winners! All of the submitted photos were fantastic! We received 57 photos from about 30 different markets for the month-long contest in honor of Farmers’ Market Week. This is almost double the participation of last year’s first photo contest and the PCFMA staff had a tough time deciding on the winners!

The images we received covered a wide range of views on what your farmers’ markets means to you, from the fabulous produce, to the market atmosphere, to the community feeling the market creates. We thank all those who participated in this exciting contest. All of us at Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association appreciate your participation and support of your local farmers’ markets! We hope you all had as much fun taking the photos as we did viewing them!

1st-place-Winner-Joy-Yu-Zuchero-CSM - small for website1st Place Winner: Joy Yu Zuchero taken at the College of San Mateo Farmers’ Market. The Grand Prize is a one night stay for two at the Capay Valley Bed & Breakfast and tickets to the nearby Hoes Down Festival at Full Belly Farm.

 

Nithya Chidambaranathan Evergreen - small for website

2nd Place Winner: Nithya Chidambaranathan at the Evergreen Farmers’ Market. Second place prize is two tickets to the Farm to Fork Dinner presented by CAFF at the Guglielmo Winery in Morgan Hill.

Alison Kreft San Jose DT - small for website3rd Place Winner: Allison Kreft at the San Jose Downtown Farmer’s Market. Third prizes includes “Carrot Cash” (which is good at any farmers’ market that PCFMA operates) and a reusable bag filled with fresh seasonal produce.

Seasonal Supper: Field to Fork

Seasonal-Supper---POSTER2-Medium

Share an intimate evening with local farmers while you enjoy multiple courses highlighting the food they grow. The Seasonal Supper will be a true Field to Fork event hosted by the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at Hap Magee Ranch in Danville.

Each course, delicately crafted by Chef Mario Hernandez, will feature the seasonal harvest from Tomatero Farm, Frog Hollow Farm, Happy Acre Farm and more producers from the Danville Farmers’ Market. Glennhawk Vineyards will be generously providing tastings and menu pairings of their wine selection, grown right here in Danville, adding to this truly local experience.

Participating Danville Farmers’ Market Farms and Producers:
Achadinha Cheese Co.
CMC Farms
Frog Hollow Farm
Glennhawk Vineyards
Happy Acre Farm
Prather Ranch
Sunrise Nursery
Tomatero Organic Farm

Enjoy farm-fresh food, live music, fine local wine, and a raffle benefiting nutritional education programs for low-income families of the Bay Area made possible by our sister organization, Fresh Approach.

Proceeds from this event will go to Fresh Approach programming and support the participating farms. Extra donations are gladly accepted. Many thanks to Glennhawk Vineyards for sponsoring this event.

All of your donations will support Fresh Approach and their efforts to increase healthy food access in the Bay Area.

Tickets are limited! They are available now at the Danville Farmers’ Market or at Brown Paper Tickets. Check with the market manager for details.

What are Dry Farmed Tomatoes?

Dry farmed Early Girls
Dry farmed Early Girls

At the farmers’ market you may see a sign saying that the produce is “dry farmed.” In California, where rains hopefully saturate the soil in the winter and the sun dries everything out in the summers, dry farming is a natural. Dry farming is when new seeds or seedlings are watered until established and then water is cut off,  forcing its roots deep into the soil in search of water and focus its efforts on producing fruit. The resulting tomatoes are usually smaller and lower in yield, but are so intense in flavor and texture, they are coveted by high-end restaurants and small specialty grocery stores.

dry farmed tomatoes
Dry farmed tomatoes at Blue House Farm

Dry farming is also easy on the environment because it uses much less water than other conventional methods. And that’s a big issue for California right now, suffering through another year of intense drought. Following winter and spring rains (or, during drought, watering from wells or from irrigation), the farmer will cultivate and break up the soil to create a moist “sponge.” Then the top layer is compacted using a roller to form a dry crust. This three- to four-inch layer, sometimes referred to as a dust mulch, seals in water and prevents evaporation. Water needs to be held any way possible for long periods of time. Once established, thinning of fruit or vegetables in necessary to ensure each plant gets as much water through its roots as possible.

Other fruits and vegetables can also be dry farmed like melons, squash, and potatoes, leading to smaller product size with amazing flavor. But one problem with dry farming is reduced yield. It’s an unprofitable way to grow crops, but with the current drought, it’s sometimes the only way to  grow.

Mediterranean grape and olive growers have dry-farmed for thousands of years. The practice was common on the California coast from the 1800s through the early 20th century, but it became a lost art during the mid-century. Today, it is experiencing a modest resurgence along the coast, where temperate, foggy summers offer ideal conditions for dry farming grapes, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, melons, grains, and some tree fruit.*

Dry farming could be an important agricultural practice in the future, when water will likely be a less abundant resource. Farmers are at the mercy of the weather and soil conditions to grow their crops as they have always been. Dry farming just makes us more aware of where water comes from and how to conserve it.

 

*grist.org/farmingwithoutwater, Brie Mazurek

September 2014 Market Thymes

Sept 2014-1

Sept 2014 Market Thymes Newsletter

Changing Seasons – A new selection of fruit is arriving at your farmers’ market with the change in seasons. We’re transitioning from stone fruit and berries to figs, grapes, persimmons, and more. We’ll miss summer’s luscious fruit but we’re looking forward to the taste of plump grapes, crisp apples and juicy pears. Grapes Galore! Sweet plump table grapes are in abundance right now so stock up! Add to school and work lunches, use in fall salads, or add to a cheese platter for dessert! The Gravenstein Apple – Sonoma County was once covered with Gravenstein apple orchards, but now there are fewer and fewer. We take a look at what drought, economics, and a passion for their preservation have wrought. Cookin’ with Quince – Our friends at Cookin’ the Market offer their advice on poaching the unusual but tasty quince. Get to your farmers’ market and try some.

Drought Shortens the Season

Walking through the farmers’ market, it may not be readily apparent that farmers are struggling to bring you fresh produce. In California, farmers and farm workers have been among those most heavily hit by the drought this year.

Wells are not pumping enough water to trees.
Wells are not pumping enough water to trees.

A recent UC Davis study predicts that 14,500 jobs will be lost this year just in the Central Valley because farms are getting only two-thirds of their typical water allocation. With fewer crops being planted, fewer workers are needed, and people have less money to support local businesses. With fewer crops to harvest after leaving some of their fields fallow, or growing a placeholder crop to keep the soil from eroding, some are even participating in fewer farmers’ markets.

Most farmers are very conscious of their water usage. Utilizing drip irrigation, planting cover crops, applying green waste, and using crop rotation have helped some farmers maintain soil moisture and fertility while making the most out of its water use. Others are lucky to have wells on their property but don’t like to use too much of the ground water because of pulling up the salinity in the ground – not good for crops!

Jesus Castellanos of Castellanos Farm in Dinuba says that he’s had to drive wells deeper to get to the water. He says, “We are in critical condition. If 2 or 3 of my pumps dry up, we will go out of business because the bank does not finance them and there is no other way to make money…Not only does it cost $40,000 to $50,000 to drill for each pump, it will take 3 to 5 months to complete.”

With crazy spring weather added to the drought, fruit crops have been arriving two to three weeks early this year and their seasonality is shortened. We saw asparagus arrive two weeks early and end quickly, certain peach varieties arrived in May instead of June and pears came in August when they should have been harvested in September. It’s a wait-and-see for how the drought will affect fall and winter row crops and vegetables, but it will be rough.

drought peaches
Drought affects entire rows of peaches because there is not enough well water.

Farmers are more worried about next year if we don’t get a substantial amount of rain this winter. The cumulative effect of several years without rain means than ground water reserves will be extremely low.

Jesus says, “If my pumps dry up, I will have to let my workers go, who financially depend on working at my farm. However the worse is yet to come. I cannot imagine having to worry about our own drinking water. The water we drink comes from the pump at the farm and our house drinking water is not connected to the city’s water. This means that we may have to move somewhere else to find drinking water.”

You may not see the availability of produce change this year, but if rain doesn’t come this winter and spring, farmers will be hard pressed to keep their acreage planted and watered now and the next few years.

On your next trip to your farmers’ market expect to see fruits and certain vegetables arriving earlier than expected and have a shorter season. And let’s all hope we have a rainy season ahead.

August 2014 Market Thymes Newsletter

August-1August 2014 Market Thymes Newsletter

There’s nothing better than sitting down to sweet summer corn on the cob, hot off the grill. Sweet corn is a real treat that’s hard to top for flavor, freshness, and just plain delicious summer fun. Unlike field corn varieties, which are harvested when the kernels are dry and mature (dent stage), sweet corn is picked when immature (milk stage) and prepared and eaten as a vegetable, rather than a grain. You’ll find white, yellow, and bi-color sweet corn at the farmers’ markets right now and it will be available through most of October.

Saving the Gravenstein – Drought, Economics, and Preservation

The Gravenstein is one of my favorite apples. Its crisp tart flavor is a late summer delight. But with the continued California drought and the profitability of vineyards, apple orchards in Sonoma County are becoming scarcer.

I did a little research on the Gravenstein and found that Russian fur traders brought them to the Sonoma area in the mid-1800s. Over 18,000 acres were eventually planted in the lush rolling hills in the following 100 years. Almost every orchard supplied local families with enough apples for juicing, drying, and eating through the winter months.

In the 1970s and through the 1990s, increasing competition from the Washington apple industry, the loss of a significant market with the end of the Vietnam War (the army used Gravensteins to supply troops with applesauce), and the introduction of several generic, easy-to-store and ship apple varieties, caused the Gravenstein apple growers to receive only pennies per pound for their apples. After years of losing money, many growers sold their land or transformed their acreage into more lucrative vineyards.

Walker Ranch1

During a recent trip to Bodega Bay and Sonoma’s West County we drove along winding back roads lined with wild blackberry bushes. Ranches were filled with wandering beef cattle and dairy cows, vineyards showed off rows of recently planted grape vines in orderly procession, and apple orchards still covered the gentle hills, trees heavy with apples.

Driving up a narrow, orchard-lined dirt road, we stopped at Walker Ranch in Graton where Lee and Barbara Walker grow Gravenstein apples on 50 acres. They are one of the few remaining Gravenstein orchards in the area and their family has been growing apples for over 100 years. They also grow about 25 other apple varieties that are harvested through November, concentrating on the older heirloom varieties like the Bellflower, the Baldwin, and the Arkansas Black. Lee’s grandfather planted some of the original trees in 1910 and they’re still producing apples!

As we pull into the Walker farm, gnarled old apple trees stand like proud sentinels on the terraced hills surrounding the processing shed. Backlit by the afternoon sun, they take on an almost eerie sculptural look. An old tractor sits at the base of the hill, now charged with watching the harvest come in and providing entertainment for climbing children. Huge old wooden crates hold the latest apple harvest as workers move in and out of the packing shed, loading and unloading the latest crop. Inside the shed on the wall behind the counter are blue ribbons and trophies for apple excellence. We’re greeted like old friends by Barbara Walker, owner of Walker Ranch as we order a huge box of apples.

I chatted with Barbara about how the orchard was doing in this prolonged drought. She said, “We’ve picked 70% of what we did last year because of lack of water. And if we don’t get rain this coming season, who knows what we’ll get next year.”

She also said that with so few acres remaining of this precious heirloom apple, farmers are afraid they might lose some of their trees if they don’t get substantial rain this winter.Walker Ranch small

There is a long history of Gravensteins in the West County area, and though many farmers have removed these wonderful old trees to put in more profitable wine grapes, there are those stalwart farmers like the Walkers who refuse to let the Gravenstein apple disappear into the history books. Barbara says, “We love these apples and farming – and we love to see the same customers return every year. It’s like family.”

There are now fewer than 800 acres of Gravenstein orchards in the county. As we drive back to Bodega with our big box of gorgeous Gravensteins it is sad to see fewer orchards  than the year before. Grape vines now cover some of the acreage I remember as being filled with apple trees.

But all is not lost – yet. There are efforts underway to preserve what little acreage is left and efforts to plant new acreage. The Gravenstein Apple Fair in early August reminds visitors and locals alike that this heirloom apple deserves to be preserved. And the Slow Food USA Gravenstein Apple Presidia is working with various organizations and farmers to revive interest in the apple.

We hope to continue to visit the Walkers and other Gravenstein apple farms in West County in the years to come. Let’s hope next year when we drive down the Gravenstein Highway there will still be many rows of these wonderful old apple trees.