Food Security in California Takes Important Step Forward

Supporters of AB 1321 rally in San Francisco to encourage Governor Brown’s support.

Recently the state of California took another important step towards improving healthy food access for its citizens when Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1321 into law. This law, introduced by Assembly Member Phil Ting, establishes the Nutrition Incentive Matching Grant Program in the Office of Farm to Fork at the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The Nutrition Incentive Matching Grant Program will, once funded, provide revenue for programs like Market Match that increase access to fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables for Californians. PCFMA has been offering Market Match since 2009 and is a proud member of the California Market Match Consortium, a statewide coalition of farmers’ markets who are offering Market Match programs.

The new program created by AB 1321 specifically targets Californians who receive support through the WIC, CalWORKS, CalFresh, Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs and promises to help them use their existing benefits more efficiently by incentivizing their purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables. The program will continue to support fresh produce purchases in certified farmers’ markets throughout the state ensuring that these additional fruit and vegetable purchases support California farmers as well as California consumers.

All of us at PCFMA, as well as the farmers and communities who benefit from these programs, thank Assembly Member Ting for his leadership on this issue. And, we thank Governor Brown for his support. We are optimistic that the bipartisan support that was behind the bill will be sustained as the program launches and seeks funding to begin operations.

While we celebrate this good news about Market Match, we are also working to sustain another important nutrition incentive program, the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. PCFMA has been a supporter of these two programs for many years because of their clear benefit for families in need and benefits for local farmers. These two programs provide low income consumers with a book of coupons good for $20 of fresh fruits and vegetables in farmers’ markets. The coupons for seniors have a face value of $2 each which is convenient when shopping at a farmers’ market, but a challenge for a farmer or farmers’ market operator who deposits the check in the bank. The deposit fee charged by banks can be as high as $0.15 per item. For a $2 check that is a fee of 7.5%. These fees are creating a disincentive for farmers and farmers’ markets to support this essential program. We hope to work with our partners throughout the state on this issue over the coming year in the hope of finding a cost-effective solution.

I look forward to seeing you in the market soon.


Allen J. Moy
Executive Director

October Market Thymes Newsletter

October 2015-1October 2015

The plentiful autumn harvest of fruits and vegetables is here. The farmers’ market is filled with colorful gourds to decorate your front porch, winter squash and root vegetables to simmer in hot soups, and juicy pears and apples to bake into pies and warm breads.

Again, we remind you to say thanks to the farmers who continue to weather an historic drought to bring you the very best produce!

Pick of the Week – 6 Uses for Almonds

Almonds 3-9-2010 (6)Almonds are the largest tree crop in California. They’ve taken a hit with the drought, and many growers have plowed under their trees. But almonds are still here and farmers are learning new methods to water their trees in a more efficient manner.

Almonds are high in protein and carbohydrates and considered one of the healthy oils to eat. They are high on riboflavin, niacin, manganese, phosphorous, thiamine, and over 170% of the recommended vitamin E.

Use them in new ways to get the health benefits and all the flavor:

  • Grind and use as a crust in desserts.
  • Chop as a topping on pies.
  • Slice and toss into salads
  • Add to stir fry dishes.
  • Grind, mix with herbs and oil, and use as a crust on fish dishes.
  • Add chopped almonds into your next smoothie.

5 Ways to Enjoy Brussels Sprouts

brussels sproutsBrussels sprouts look like small ball-sized knobs growing in rows on stalks attached by what look like wooden pegs. Sections of these stalks, about 2 to 3 feet, are sold with the sprouts attached, or loosely in bulk. Strange, but delicious, given half a chance!

You say you don’t like Brussels sprouts? Well, wait until you try some of these simple ways to cook with them – you’re sure you will change your mind.

  • Saute: Wash, trim, cut in half lengthwise. Add olive oil to a pan, cook chunks of white onion and pancetta or bacon for a minute or two. Add sprouts, cook on medium for 10 minutes or so until softened.
  • Roast: Same as above, except instead of sauteing, toss ingredients in a bowl with olive oil and lay on a baking sheet in a single layer. Cover with foil and roast at 400 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.
  • Shave: Get out a mandolin or a knife and shave 24 Brussels sprouts thinly. Place in a bowl and add shaved Pecorino Romano cheese, walnuts, and olive oil to taste. Mix well, until sprouts begin to wilt. Serve.
  • Grill: Mix trimmed sprouts with oil, minced garlic, salt and pepper. Place on a piece of foil and wrap like a package. Toss package on the grill for about 15 minutes.
  • Pasta: Saute as above. Add cooked pasta to the pan with a bit of butter, salt and pepper. Stir well and serve.

The Giant Pumpkins Have Arrived!

giant pumpkinsOctober festivities at your local farmers’ market are about to begin! The Giant Pumpkins have arrived, just in time for you to guess their weight! Greg Pursley and Jorge Vega, PCFMA Regional Managers,  dragged these superior squash specimens to the warehouse – all the way from Bautista Ranch in Stockton! What an amazing feat of strength!

Throughout the month of October – and with Halloween just around the corner – these pumpkins will be making their appearance in all their orange glory. They will hold pride of place at different markets on various market days, so you must check with your market manager to see when they will appear.

punkinsAlong with the arrival of these beauties, markets will have costume contests, pumpkin giveaways, and other fall arts and crafts. You could win a pumpkin and other great prizes for the myriad of contests being held. Pumpkins, gourds, and other winter squash will also be available from various farmers. Be sure to pick up several to decorate for the holiday!

Happy Fall! See you at the market!

5 Ways to Eat Jujubes

jujubeYou’ll probably see mounds of a round yellow fruit with browning skin around the market right now. It’s the jujube!  Also called a Chinese date when dried, this fruit is slightly sweet with the texture of an apple. It’s a great snack or can be used in baked goods or candied. Most growers dry this little fruit

It has a thin, edible skin surrounding whitish flesh of sweet, agreeable flavor. The single hard stone contains two seeds. The immature fruit is green in color, but as it ripens it goes through a yellow-green stage with mahogany-colored spots appearing on the skin as the fruit ripens further. The fully mature fruit is entirely red. Shortly after becoming fully red, the fruit begins to soften and wrinkle. The fruit can be eaten after it becomes wrinkled, but most people prefer them during the interval between the yellow-green stage and the full red stage. At this stage the flesh is crisp and sweet, reminiscent of an apple.

  • Salads: Enjoy in a salad that uses apples or Asian pears. Toss with some walnuts, sliced jujubes, and a sweet vinaigrette.
  • Breakfast: Slice thin and add to oatmeal or yogurt for added sweetness.
  • Baked: Bake sliced jujubes with pork chops in the oven like you would apples.
  • Jujube Chips: Slice thinly and place in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 250 degrees until dehydrated.
  • Stuffing: Chop and add to your favorite poultry stuffing with celery, onion, and spices.

Saving the Gravenstein Apple

gravensteinsThe Gravenstein is a favorite apple among apple connoisseurs. Its crisp tart flavor is a late summer delight. The drought has been hard on the growers in Sonoma County near Sebastopol where they’re grown.

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 who refuse to let the Gravenstein apple disappear into the history books.Walker Ranch small

There are now fewer than 800 acres of Gravenstein orchards in the county. 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.

Visit the growers of Gravenstein apples in West County in the years to come. Let’s hope next year when you drive down the Gravenstein Highway there will still be many rows of these wonderful old apple trees.

Best Pick – 5 Ways to Enjoy Cauliflower

Colorful cauliflower
Cauliflower isn’t just white anymore!

Winter cruciferous veggies are arriving at your farmers’ market. Also called “cole crops'” broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and cauliflower are in this family and are known for their high nutritional value and lovely mild flavor.

Cauliflower has been underutilized by chefs and home cooks for many years, but it is recently being rediscovered as people find more creating ways to enjoy it. How can you pass it up with its sweet, mild, and slightly nutty flavor? As an added bonus, it is packed with essential nutrients, heart healthy compounds, fiber, and phyto-chemicals that help prevent cancer.

Romanesco cauliflower
Romanesco cauliflower

The renewed interest in cauliflower can also be attributed to the many beautiful colors and shapes they can be found in. They are available in light green, pale orange, and pale purple colors. (Flavors are basically the same as a white cauliflower.) Also of interest is the fascinating, alien-looking Romanesco variety with its many-pointed florets.

Here are 5 ways to really enjoy the subtle and delicious flavors of cauliflower:

  1. Soup: Puree cooked cauliflower, add fennel seeds and your other favorite herbs and spices and serve as soup.
  2. Smash: Mash cooked cauliflower like you would potatoes, add a bit of butter, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and fresh chopped parsley.  Top with cheese, if desired. Mashed cauliflower can be used as sauteed patties, as pizza crust, or as a “tortilla.”
  3. Saute: Saute florets in a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, until softened and slightly browned to bring out their flavor.
  4. Roast: Toss florets with olive oil, salt, pepper, and touch of tumeric in a bowl, place on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, tossing after 15 minutes.
  5. Stir-fry: Stir-fry with pea pods and broccoli for a few minutes, add teriyaki sauce or other stir-fry sauce and cook until desired softness. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve with rice.

Best Pick – 5 Ways to Serve Kabocha Squash

kabochaKabocha is a thick-skinned green-skinned (or red-orange) pumpkin-shaped squash that ranges in diameter from 8 to 12 inches with an average weight of 3 to 4 pounds. Inside is a semi-firm, dense golden flesh that has a rich, sweet flavor. The flavor is similar to pumpkin or a sweet potato. It can be baked, braised, pureed, stuffed, or steamed to be served as a side dish or as a base for soups, cakes, and pies. When baking or roasting, make sure you have about 1 to 1-1/2 pounds per serving.

  1. Roasted Kabocha:  Preheat oven to 400°F.  Peel and cut squash.  Cut into 2-inch cubes.  Toss will olive oil.  Add salt and pepper, to taste.  Place on baking sheet and cook for 15 minutes and stir.  Cook 15 minutes, stir and toss.  Sprinkle with a bit of brown sugar. Cook another 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot.
  2. Kabocha Soup: Bake one kabocha as directed above, cool, peel, then puree in a blender. Add 2 cups vegetable stock, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Reheat and serve with a topping of chopped chives and a dollop of sour cream.
  3. Warm Kabocha Kale Salad: Saute peeled and cubed kabocha with a touch of olive oil, salt and pepper. Add kale and cook until slightly wilted. Serve warm.
  4. Stuffed Kabocha: Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds. Place on cookie sheet. Roast at 400°F for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and stuff with mixture of cooked brown rice, chopped and cooked mushrooms and onion, pinch of curry powder and some golden raisins. Cook for another 15 minutes. Serve hot.
  5. Kabocha Pasta Toss: Roast kabocha as above but only until just slightly soft. Cook any kind of pasta according to package directions. Drain, toss in cubed kabocha, cooked spinach leaves, chopped fresh tomato, salt, pepper, minced garlic, and some grated Parmesan cheese.

Please note: Be very careful when cutting open a winter squash such as kabocha. The skin is very hard and can slip while you’re cutting. Place a cutting board on a dish towel to keep board from slipping. You might have to use a mallet or hammer to start the cutting process. Safety first!

Drought, Regulations, and Olive Fruit Fly Affect Fall Olive Oil Production

Several factors have affected this winter’s new olive oil crop – the olive fruit fly, the drought, and the new stricter grading and labeling regulations that took effect in September.

The Drought
The drought will bring in the harvest a week or so ahead of schedule, and the crop is expected to be a third smaller than previous years. The olive buds froze in the cold snap we had last olio tree pruningDecember. The quality will still be very good and the first press should offer great flavor, according to some of the farmers’ market olive oil producers. Last fall, trees were trimmed back more severely than usual to lessen the amount of water they needed, thus leading to the smaller yield this year. Some smaller olive oil producers will not be bringing in their crop this year because they won’t have enough to press. They say that if we don’t get enough rain this winter and spring, next year will be a disaster for both small and large operations. Even though olive trees require less water than most tree crops, producers are still concerned about having enough water for irrigation.

Don Della Nina of Olio Bello d’Olivo says, “We usually pick around 18 tons of olives in a good year. This fall we only picked about 7 or 8 tons and it was a week or so earlier than normal. Some ranchers didn’t bother picking their olives at all.” He says he has two harvests per year, one in the fall of green olives that make a wonderful cooking oil with strong olive flavor and a bit of a peppery bite to it. His spring crop is from black olives that provides an oil good for dipping and dressings, with a smooth finish and flavor.

The Olive Fruit Fly
With almost 100% of the commercial olives produced in the US grown in California*, the olive fruit fly can cause major devastation if not controlled. Olive oil producers use mostly integrated pest management techniques such as bait traps, and other biologic methods to control this pest. It is currently under control, but it is a constant battle to contain the pest. They nest in the slowly ripening fruit and can spread larvae that will ruin the entire crop of olives. Olio Bello d’Olivo hasn’t had any olive fruit fly problems, but he still puts out his own traps to make sure it stays that way.

The New Grading Regulations
olio bello d olivoNew grading and labeling standards for olive oil took effect this September. These new standards require that producers of more than 5,000 gallons or more of olive oil test every batch of their extra virgin olive oil to ensure that it is not rancid, denatured, or mixed with other types of oils. In the California certification program, California producers submit their olive oil to the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) for sensory evaluation, where a panel of certified tasters conducts a blind tasting, chemical analysis, and rigorous lab testing to confirm that acidity levels and other aspects of the oil are on target. If the oil passes certification the producers earn the right to display the COOC seal. Purchasing olive oil with the COOC stamp of approval means you are buying fresh, California grown, 100% extra virgin olive oil.

Don says, “Customers should ask to see this analytical lab report when they buy California olive oil. The acidity can’t exceed .5% in California – ours usually runs at the .1% to .2% level. Our sales success is due to our transparency about what’s in our oil.”

The new regulations eliminate confusing labels like “light,” and “pure,” adulterated versions of real olive oil. Both of these must now be labeled as “refined” oils. And with these new regulations it is expected to give California olive oil producers a competitive edge because of the expectation of quality oils labeled properly.

Visit your local farmers’ market for real California olive oil, unadulterated, pure, and delicious!


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