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Si’s April Produce Outlook

Springtime is always exciting around Bi-Rite Market, but this spring is particularly exciting because for the first time I can say, “springtime is exciting around both Bi-Rites.” With the one-month anniversary of the new Bi-Rite Divis just days away, we are busy building up our local seasonal produce displays in both stores.  After a winter full of amazing citrus, apples and greens, the tastes of spring have arrived.  All of our local growers continue to fine tune their farming skills, and every year the spring crops come earlier.

Veggie Madness

The early spring vegetable selection is my favorite! Winter crops like chicories and brassicas really kick in as the days get longer and the air stays cool.  Spring alliums, green garlic and artichokes start sizing up and add wonderful flavors to our produce section.

Full Belly Farm (Yolo County, CA) takes advantage of the early spring and is one of our featured farms this time of year:

  •  Full Belly’s asparagus is so fresh when it arrives at Bi-Rite that you don’t have to cook it to enjoy its tender, sweet and grassy flavor.  We’ll have the local grass until the end of May.spring asparagus
  • Their spring cippolini onions and green garlic are always extra flavorful and taste great paired with spring veggies.
  • The red leaf and romaine lettuce is super tender with a nice, crispy heart. Early spring can be a challenging time to source head lettuce.  Most of the larger organic lettuce growers are switching from Southern CA plots to land in Central Valley, so the market price is high. Local growers like Fully Belly have a limited supply but offer fresher lettuce at a better price.Keep an eye out for specialty bunched greens like arugula, mizuna and spinach that come and go all summer long.
  • I can’t forget to mention Full Belly’s amazing organic flowers. The Ranunculus bunches have a million colors, the Tulips are bright, and the Anemones are reminiscent of snorkeling along a coral reef.  Look out for beautiful, seasonal bouquets!
  • There are plenty of other small farms harvesting delicious veggies:
  • Tomatero Farm (Watsonville, CA) has big and beautiful bunches of Lacinato, Green and Red Russian Kale.  These tender leaves are great raw in a salad, sautéed or added to a super juice.
  • Our good friend and local farmer Martin supplies both stores with his SF famous arugula.  Even with the arugula and lettuce ‘capital of the world’ just south in Salinas, Martin always bring us the freshest product we can find.
  • Willey’s Farm’s (Madera, CA) super successful crop of baby artichokes is going strong until May.
  • Catalan Farm (Hollister, CA) continues to be the “Brassica King” with their tender sweet broccoli, big heads of cauliflower and crisp cabbage.
  • Happy Boy Farms (Watsonville, CA) harvests plump and juicy Little Gem lettuce and delicate greens like rapini greens and watercress.  Only a handful of growers consistently pull off high-quality greens like these – Happy Boy nails it!
  • The sugar snap peas from John Givens Farm (Santa Barbara, CA) are perfect and will be in until May. The English peas just started up down south; they’re surprisingly big, sweet and starch-free.  Most of the local growers will get going later this month.

DSC_2897During spring, all of the wild-foraged crops sprout up throughout the country.  Two veggies that we love to bring in for our creative cooks are ramps and fiddlehead ferns fronds.

Ramps are wild, pungent baby leeks with a tender, edible green.  Due to their strong flavor, you only need a few to spice up a dish.

Fiddlehead fern fronds
are the baby shoots of a fern tree; they have a crisp texture and nutty flavor.

The first organic rhubarb of the season usually comes from Washington in the first weeks of April.  Just in time for the start of local strawberry season!

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Fruit For Thought

  • Swanton, Tomatero and Yerena Berry Farm (Watsonville, CA) are our main berry growers this season.  These farmers grow varieties that work well in their climate, such as the “Albion” and the “Chandler”.  Our farmers always harvest a perfectly ripe berry that stays fresh for our guests.  Come try the first “melt in your mouth strawberries” today!
  • California citrus is still juicy and delicious; both Markets have over 15 different varieties. 
  • The Pixie tangerines from Jim Churchill in mountains of Ojai, CA, are sweet like candy and a nice treat for the little ones — enjoy them until the beginning of May.
  • Many varieties of specialty citrus are winding down.  If you want to enjoy the Moro blood oranges, Cocktail grapefruit, Murcott mandarins and the Cara Cara pink navels stop in soon!

Simon

Easter Blooms from Bay Area Farms

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We’ll make a custom arrangement for your Easter table

Spring has come to the market in full force!  We’re super excited about the array of spring beauties we’ve been able to offer our guests in the last couple of weeks.  We are now carrying local and organic tulips, ranunculus, anemones, lilac, sweet williams, freesia, and irises. We’re thrilled to feature these flowers direct from Thomas, Full Belly, and Oak Hill Farms.

Also in season at the market are a wide variety of protea, grown by Resendiz Brothers Protea Growers in Fallbrook, CA.  These protea come in a wide range of shapes and colors, from spiky to soft, hot pink to orange and canary yellow.

DSC_4814We source our roses exclusively from local grower Neve Brothers in Petaluma, CA.  Unlike most imported florist roses, which are bred for longevity, these roses are bred for beauty and scent–the true essence of a rose!

Our flower team will be on hand this weekend to assist you in creating a beautiful custom arrangement for your or your host’s holiday table.  You can also pre-order a bouquet or vase arrangement by emailing our florist Eleanor.

HELLO SPRING!

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Thomas Farm’s amazing spread of ranunculus and tulips


Simon

Moro Blood Orange Upside Down Cake & Other Citrus-y Delights

Our Citrus Bomb has exploded, with up to 20 different varieties of California citrus on our shelves as we speak. The uncharacteristically cold weather of the past few weeks has slowed down vegetable production statewide, but it has also resulted in some of the most juicy and flavorful citrus in the past ten years.  The flavor profiles of our citrus selection range from the tart & extra fragrant Bergamot Sour Orange to the super sweet & tiny Kishu Mandarin. We’ve got everyone’s taste buds covered.

jessica cake

Jessica’s success with Moro Blood Orange Upside Down Cake

My favorite piece of citrus so far this year is the slightly tart and berry-like flavored Moro Blood Orange. The flavor, juice and texture on these have been out of this world this year. We’re getting our Moros from Deer Creek Heights Ranch in Porterville, in the San Joaquin Valley 260 miles southeast of San Fran. Their fruit is picked only when it’s fully ripe and ready to eat, and delivered to us within days of harvest.  Instead of using artificial wax and fungicides, the fruit is simply brushed with horsehair brushes and drenched with a natural compound, using only the fruit’s own natural wax. This produces a fruit that is full of its own natural flavor, like you picked it right from the tree–the way it used to taste.

The New York Times recently published a recipe for Blood Orange Upside Down Cake, and our HR guru Jessica gave it a try, with great success! In her words: “I felt like I was building a stained glass window. Every layer I sliced off of each orange revealed so many new splashes of color that I had to stop and stare at the pile of carvings, just to savor the visual splendor.  The juice from the Moro Bloods I used for the recipe was so abundant that it spread beautifully through the cornmeal batter.  The result was a tasty blend of sweet and tart throughout a deliciously moist cake.” She’s urged us all to give it a try! olsen clementines

Like most Americans, I grew up on classic pink grapefruit; my Mom would cut it in half and sprinkle sugar all over and I would take the time to cut out each little tart/sweet segment. That was in New England, but out here in California we have numerous grapefruit varieties. My favorite over the past few years has been the Cocktail Grapefruit; this flavorful cross between the Fru Mandarin and the Pomelo Grapefruit is super juicy and has a low acid, sweet and buttery rich flavor.

The success of our produce department relies heavily on all of the farm direct relationships we have built over the past 10 years, but one of the most difficult crops to get directly from the farms is citrus.  The majority of citrus growers are located from the Central Valley all the way down to Southern California, and it’s unrealistic for them to drive all the way to us just to deliver 20 cases.  However, this season we reached out to Jim Churchill, who grows amazing citrus in the hills of Ojai. Most commonly known for his extra-sweet, late-season varieties like the Pixie Tangerine, Jim also grows the easy-peeling Kishu Mandarins which are so tasty that the kids in the neighborhood can’t get enough.

We are mid-way through citrus season and there are so many varieties I didn’t mention, so come by and sample all the flavors!


Simon

Si’s December Produce Update

The winter weather has hit the Bay Area and after the recent cold weather and rain, local crops like strawberries and raspberries are official done for the season.  However, with every crop that disappears with the weather, something new like the Olsen Organic Clementines  comes along to make our taste buds happy.

Fruit

As we head deeper into the winter months, citrus is the main fruit crop throughout California; we love to celebrate all of the sensational varieties in our produce department. Varieties like Satsuma and Clementine mandarins usually kick off our local citrus season.  Satsumas are the first mandarin variety  harvested in Northern California, and have a short season from November to early January.  These seedless, easy-peeling pieces of fruit offer the perfect balance between sweet and tart. We just started getting Satsumas from Terra Firma Farm in Winters and will have them through the New Year.

Cara Caras, aka red navels, have become one of the most popular pieces of citrus the past few years.  The combination of the sweet, low-acid and firm, juicy texture makes the Cara Cara super enjoyable.  Beck Navels have also just started up and they’re so juicy and sweet.  Both of these navels will only get more flavorful as we get closer to the end of the month.

The Mandarinquat from Deer Creek Ranch in Porterville is a small tear-drop piece of fruit that’s a little bigger than a kumquat.  The tart flesh and sweet, edible skin make for a delightful combination of flavor.  They’re the perfect holiday garnish, and throwing them into the freezer makes an awesome ice cube for your cocktails.  Deer Creek Ranch also grows beautiful yellow Sweet Limes which are super juicy and have a low acidity compared to regular limes.

Although the first Blood Oranges have been spotted at the SF produce market, most of the organic growers are still waiting for their crops to ripen up. Like most fruit, it’s very important to let the citrus develop their sugars on the tree and not harvest them too early.  Unfortunately, due to supply and demand, a lot of the large growers harvest early just to beat the rest of the growers to the marketplace.  We always taste the new citrus when it hits the scene to make sure the flavor is there before we bring it on to our shelves.  Stay tuned for Bour annual “Citrus Bomb” which will explode with over 20 varieties later this winter!

Apples and pears are at this point coming out of storage as most of the California crops are finished, but we’re very lucky to still have sources of local apples and pears for the holidays. Farmer Al from Frog Hollow has been bringing his Bosc and Warren Pears, which eat great out of hand and bake up nicely.  Johan form Hidden Star Orchard just started bringing us his late season Nagafu Fuji, and the Pink Lady Apples have been eating so well.  With the end of California apples and pears in sight, we’ll set our sights on amazing fruit from the Northwest like Jazz and Pacific Rose Apples.

With the winter local fruit selection less bountiful, we keep our eyes open for unique fruits.  Over the past couple years, more and more growers are harvesting flavorful crops like Passion Fruit and Pineapple Guava aka Feijoas, which add a nice tropical touch to fruit platters and cocktails.   A Bi-Rite staff favorite, the Black Sphinx Dates from Arizona just arrived; these rich and creamy dates are such a special treat and will make any cheese platter come alive.

Veggies

Porcinis & Matsutakes!

We’ve been working really hard to source specialty varieties of California avocados.  This year the Sir Prize avocado, grown by the 5th generation Tenalu Orchard in Porterville, makes its Bi-Rite debut.  The Sir Prize is a large avo with a small seed, which means a lot of yummy high-oil, creamy flesh.  The skin turns dark black when the fruit is ripe and ready to eat.

Rain earlier this month finally got the wild mushroom season going.  We’ve been fortunate to have a steady supply of local Porcini Mushrooms from an old-school forager who knows how to find the nice and firm, bug- free mushrooms. The Matsutake Mushrooms have also been very abundant this year and the price has been very reasonable.  A few Matsutake mushrooms thinly sliced can go a long way in a gratin or risotto; they’re extremely aromatic with hints of pepper and nasturtium.

Greens, greens and more greens! This is the time of year for healthy, extra-flavorful greens; they’re one of the only crops that get better with the cold weather.  The Lacinato, Green and Red Russian Kale from Tomatero Farm in Watsonville have been beautiful and the nice big bunches go a long way.

Winter at Bi-Rite has become an Escarole party the past few years.  It seems to be the best green for salads when local farmers are having a hard time growing baby lettuce in the cold rain.  Escarole is a broader leaved, less bitter member of the endive family and makes a great substitute for romaine in a Caesar salad.  Escarole is an awesome green to braise and add to soups.  We will have escarole from the Bi-Rite Farm in Sonoma through January.

Local organic Brussels Sprouts can be hard to come by, but our favorite growers are about to be swimming in brussels.  We are currently getting brussel sprouts from Rodoni in Santa Cruz and later this month both Bluehouse Farm in Pescadero and Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport will be harvesting.  There is nothing like a fresh picked brussels sprout that is harvested small to medium in size, before they lose their tenderness. When shopping for brussels most people look for sprouts with a solid green color, but the ones that are a lighter shade of green/white have been blanched by the outer leaves of the plant, which usually signals more flavor and tenderness.


Simon

Si’s November Produce Update

November is by far the most exciting time of year at Bi-Rite Market, due to our most food-centric holiday of the year coming at the end of the month. We’re very grateful to be able to provide so much amazing local produce for our guests’ Turkey Day celebrations!  The weather this past month has been perfect for most of the farmers in Northern California–the combination of hot sunny days with a little rain here and there really make the vegetables growing in the field happy.  Most local summer crops like tomatoes, eggplants, squash, and peppers are usually gone by November, but this year a handful of farms are still harvesting these crops.  Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the fresh veggies and fruits that will be on our shelves for Thanksgiving week.

Fall Fruits

Balakian Farm in Reedley has been driving over 250 miles each way over the past 10 years to supply us with their pomegranates.  Everyone should have at least a few of these for their Turkey Day fruit basket.  They’ve been eating so well this year and are extra juicy!

The Fuyu Persimmons that we get from our favorite farms are always tree-ripe and great for eating out of hand.  Although most Fuyus look the same, there are always subtle differences in flavor, so our produce crew loves to taste and compare the Fuyus from different farms; this year the Fuyus from the Bi-Rite Family Farm in Placerville are the front runner for best flavor, but the season isn’t over yet….

Hachiya Persimmons are similar in flavor to Fuyus, but usually sweeter and completely different in texture. Hachiyas are ready to eat when the texture of the flesh is soft like pudding; they’re a great piece of fruit for pudding or persimmon cake.  Hachiyas are harvested firm and usually take up to two weeks to ripen, so we take it upon ourselves to ripen them up for our guests.

Apple Pie Time! DeVoto Gardens in Sebastopol is just finishing up the harvest and their availability is starting to dwindle.  Stan did promise us that he’ll have plenty of their fresh picked Rome apples for Thanksgiving week, which are great for pies.   Hidden Star Orchard in Linden just started bringing us beautiful Pink Ladies, and we have a good supply of their Fuji and Granny Smiths.  Late season apple varieties form the Northwest are about to start up, so keep an eye out for more unique apples.

Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood always has the best pears for fruit platters and desserts.  The Warren Pear is perfect for a fruit platter,  its silky smooth flesh and sweet flavor always a treat.  The Bosc Pear is probably the best cooking pear from Frog Hollow and has good sugar even when firm.

Last year we started a new farm-direct relationship with Vincent Family Cranberries in Oregon.  They’re a small family farm that dry-harvests extra-sweet cranberries for both the fresh berry market and their own bottled cranberry juice.  Cranberries are one of the crops that have been taken over by large companies like Ocean Spray, and it’s really challenging to know exactly where the cranberries we consume come from.  The Vincent Family is one of the only farms in America that actually makes juice from the berries they grow. Most cranberry juices are made with berries that are sourced from growers throughout the country.  This Holiday season we will have two Vincent Cranberry juice blends: Cranberry/Blueberry and Cranberry/Agave Nectar, both which have a mild-sweetness and are perfect for cocktails.

We’re waiting patiently for the start of local citrus season!  Usually the first citrus is the Satsuma Mandarin from Side Hill Citrus in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas.  This easy peeling, seedless mandarin offers the perfect balance between sweet/tart and kids love them.

The Veggie Scene

Yams are often mistaken for orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, but they’re not even related to the sweet potato. Instead, yams are thick, white tubers with a lot less flavor than sweet potatoes, and are rarely available in the United States.  Sweet potatoes originated in South America and over a dozen varieties are cultivated for the marketplace.  This year we’ll be highlighting several varieties of sweet potatoes from Doreva Farms in Livingston, including the dark red-skinned Red Garnet, along with the light skinned Hannah Sweets. All of these sweet potatoes offer classic flavor and texture; don’t be afraid to cook them up together.

Brussels Sprouts are one of the more challenging crops to grow organically, as they’re very susceptible to pests and take a lot of labor to harvest and clean.  We’ll be getting over 400 lbs. of organic brussel sprouts from Rondoni Farm in Santa Cruz.

At the Bi-Rite Farm in Sonoma, we’re tending to our baby lettuce and chicory crops on a daily basis to assure that they’re perfect for Thanksgiving week.  Escarole, the least bitter of the endive family, has leaves that are very tender and sometimes a bit crunchy. Escarole is perfect in a salad and really delicious when braised or added to soup.

Yes, we still have local dry farmed tomatoes from Dirty Girl Farm in Santa Cruz County!  The flavor is awesome and hopefully the rain that’s falling as I write this won’t end the harvest. Come on, sun!

Last but not least, everyone’s favorite cold weather veggie: winter squash! Full Belly Farm has been harvesting all kinds of perfectly ripe winter squash.  The Delicatas have been so yummy and roast up great, skin and all.  Butternut squash is plentiful and our kitchen’s been all over them, making their butternut and apple soup.  The Acorn, Kabocha, Spaghetti and Red Kuri Squashes are all yummy and very versatile. We also have some locally grown heirloom pumpkins like the Cinderella and the Musquee De Provence. These beautiful pumpkins can be used as decoration, then roasted up and turned into a delicious soup.

 

 


Simon

Flower Arrangements for Your Thanksgiving Table

We’ve always offered bright and beautiful California-grown flowers, but we recently decided to take our assortment to the next level by hiring a professional florist to help us improve the quality and sustainability of our selection. Eleanor Gerber-Siff has been working in the San Francisco floral industry for the past 6 years, creating gorgeous wedding arrangements and spectacular centerpieces for restaurants. Eleanor’s really excited to help our flower selection blossom and offer new floral services to our guests.  In the near future we plan on offering floral designs for weddings and pre-ordered custom bouquets…in the meantime, we’re thrilled to offer three pre-order flower arrangements for Thanksgiving! Order by phone at 415-241-9760 or in person at the Market, 9-9 every day. Check em out:


Simon

Si’s October Produce Outlook

I’ve been buying produce for a long time, but this is by far the most excited I’ve ever been about apples!  We’ve been working really hard for the past ten years to source a wide selection of local apples to celebrate the fall season.  This year it’s all really coming together…with the addition of OZ Farm as a new farm direct relationships, the apple selection is complete. At least for now!

OZ Farm is a beautiful orchard located near the coast of Mendocino County in Point Arena. The farm became certified organic in 1990 and has around 17 acres of heirloom apples. I’ve heard about them for years but had never figured out a way to get a steady supply of their apples to Bi-Rite.  Luckily Rachel Hooper, daughter of the farm owners, lives in San Francisco and recently expressed interest in bringing down apples every Tuesday!  OZ has over 15 varieties of heirlooms and they’re just starting to ripen up, so they’ll be available through the beginning of November. We just got in three new varieties to add to our “House of Vintage Apples”:

  • The Belle De Boskopp is one of the most popular russet varieties on the market, both a great eating apple and, due to its crispy dense flesh, a wonderful cooking apple. It originated in England in the 19th century and has yellow skin with a red blush, tart to mild sweet flavor, and is highly aromatic.
  • Then there’s the Russet  (no relation to a Russet potato but the skins do look similar). Russet indicates a fruit with slightly rough greenish-brown skin that usually tastes a bit nutty and sweet. The amount of russeting can be caused by a number of factors like weather, disease and pest issues.
  • The Cox Orange Pippin  is one of the finest dessert apples, with a very unique orange-red colored skin.  It originated in England in the 19th century and the flavor is a complex mixture of pear, melon, orange and mango, making any other apple you taste alongside it seem one-dimensional.
  • Finally, the Hudson’s Golden Gem  first surfaced in Oregon around 1930, and is an excellent eating apple due to its extra-crisp sweet flavor.

Another new farm direct relationship that has stocked us with awesome heirloom apples is Epi Center Orchard in Aptos.  Mainly an avocado seedling operation, they’ve found time to tend to their 1- acre orchard of apple trees.  We have a handful of their varieties on our shelves right now:

  • The Suntan  is a cross between Cox Orange Pippin and Court Plendu Plat.  Its creamy yellow flesh is very firm and fairly juicy. These give me flashbacks to my youth and the sweet flavor of a pack of “Now and Later” candies–they’re that sweet!
  • The King David is a chance seedling that sprouted up in Arkansas in the 1890’s. The parents are thought to be the Jonathan apple and either the Black Arkansas or the Winesap apple.  These are versatile for eating, cooking and juicing.
  • The Wickson Crab is a cross between two other crab apples, but that’s where the comparison to crab apples stops. Unlike most crab apples, the Wickson is unusually sweet and still has a little acidity. The Wickson was developed in the early 20th century in Humboldt County by Albert Etter, an apple enthusiast.

Hidden Star Orchard and Devoto Gardens, our tried and true favorite apple growers, are also having amazing seasons.  Johan at Hidden Star is the master of growing all of the varieties that larger commercial growers don’t do justice.  His Fuji, Granny Smith and Pink Ladies Apples are so firm and crispy while containing delicious juice.  This year, Hidden Star will also be treating us to their new crop of Honey Crisps, which have been the most popular variety the past few years.  Stan at Devoto Gardens in Sebastopol is one of the premier apple growers in the North Bay. He’s been witness to numerous orchards being torn down and replaced with wine vines (more lucrative!), but Stan keeps it real by growing a bunch of heirloom apples like the ones he’s sending us:

  • The Jonathan,a classic American apple with a perfect balance of sweet/tart flavor.
  • The Spitzenburg, which has been around since the early 1800’s and was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple.  It has a rich, sharp flavor which gets better after sitting in storage for a little while.
  • The Mutsu may not be an heirloom, but this hybrid from Japan is one of the tastiest green apples on the scene.

Apples may be the highlight of the month but there’s a lot of other fruit that deserves a little hype:

Figs have been out of this world!  There’s nothing like a tree-ripe fig; they’re one of those crops that always taste better when they come from a small farmer who gives them the attention they need.  At the Bi-Rite Farm in Placerville, Sam’s mom does an amazing job tending to her three figs trees and it shows with each sweet, rich fig you pop in your mouth.

We have Warren Pears and Bosc Pears from Frog Hollow Orchard and are waiting on the buttery Taylor’s Gold to arrive later this month. Farmers Al’s pears are hands down the best in the Bay Area. Asian Pears from Gabriel Farm have been eating great. Oh yeah, I can’t forget about the sweet lil seckel pears from Oregon, a perfect dessert fruit.

The pomegranates from Balakian Farm in Reedley have finally arrived and will be on our shelves to help us celebrate all of the upcoming Holidays.  Also, Balakian’s jumbo fuyu persimmons (aka. the apple of persimmons) will be harvested any day now (Rosie and Kiko are particularly excited about this)!

Yes, we still have plenty of local berries from our favorite farms; they’ll be around until the first cold rains fall.

Stay tuned for next month’s produce outlook when I talk about the other half, veggies!

 


Simon

Diggin’ Deeper: The Joy of Farming

For me, farm season begins in late January, when the seed catalogs start arriving in the mail. I’m always excited to look back at which crops were successful the season before, and which didn’t grow so well, to figure out a game plan for the upcoming year. A lot of the time crop failures can be as simple as the time of the year the seed was planted.  For instance, in the early spring this year we planted rainbow chard and from the moment it started to grow, the bugs tore it apart. I kept picking off the outer leaves hoping that the bug population would dwindle but they wouldn’t…then it got too hot and the plants started to bolt. On the other hand, the rainbow chard we planted in mid-August is thriving and has already made its way into the Bi-Rite braising mix. So after three seasons trying to grow chard in the spring, I’ve learned that it just doesn’t work; I need to wait for fall, when the bug population has died out.

Successful farms do a great job figuring out which crops grow well on their land, then focus on these crops.  Since we’ve only been growing on our larger Sonoma plot for two seasons, we’re still trying to get an understanding of which crops like our climate and soil.  The soil on our farm has low acidity, which makes it challenging to grow certain crops. This year our heirloom tomato plants struggled and never really produced fruit nice enough to sell at the Market, but they did make it into Sergio’s famous gazpacho! Tomatoes love acid! Certain crops like onions, potatoes, carrots and chard seem to do alright with low PH and have done really well in Sonoma this year. We’ve been adding oyster shells to raise the PH; I find building the soil to be extremely rewarding, especially when you see the results from season to season.

Farming is a life-long venture, and even farmers who have been growing for over 25 years find joy in growing something new.  The only way to figure out which crops grow best on a specific piece of land is to constantly try new varieties; this explains why the farms whose fruits and veggies we sell in our produce section always have something new on their availability list each summer.

Our Cylindra beets

Beets have become a staple crop in the Bay Area, and our kitchen cooks with them year-round.  They’re not a hard crop to grow, but they’re also not the most financially rewarding for small farms. A lot of large organic farms grow acres of beets, clip off the beautiful greens and sell them in 25 lb. bags.  This brings the wholesale cost down, making it very challenging for small farms to compete on price.  So this year I decided to grow Cylindra beets, an heirloom variety. They’re not your everyday round beet: long and narrow, they cook up to be so sweet and tender.  The added bonus is that the greens on these beets are out of this world; it’s like getting a huge bunch of tender greens with every serving of beets.

Melon success! Our Juan Canary crop

I started growing food in 1995, but not until this year have I ever grown a super successful crop of melons. It all began in Colorado at 7,200 ft. elevation with cold summer nights–tough conditions for melon ripening.  When I started farming in Sonoma, I never felt I had enough space to dedicate to melons, since they need a lot of room to grow.  But this June, I isolated some open space. Pilar at Sunnyside Organic Seedlings in Richmond had some extra Juan Canary melon starts, so I figured even though it might be a little late in the season to plant them, I’d give it a try! Here we are in the end of September and the Juan Canary plants are producing a lot of incredibly tasty melons.  They’re a sweet melon, crisp and tangier than a Honeydew, with flesh that looks like a pear.  There will be Juan Canarys at the market for at least the next week and I will for sure be planting more next year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Simon

Si’s September Produce Outlook

Gina & Adriana from Tomatero, in front of the Market sharing their juicy, sweet dry farmed Early Girls

Yes it’s September and that theoretically means fall, but with this Indian summer we’re having (and a Dry Creek Orchard yellow peach in hand) one might think it’s the middle of July! We have so much fun this time of year bringing in all the fresh produce from our favorite farms, many of which are overflowing with crops like tomatoes, giving us the opportunity to spread the love and offer some really amazing deals. Here’s a quick look at all the inspiring small farms that take time in their day to deliver fresh goodies to Bi-Rite’s door.

Tomatero Organic Farm is located on several different plots of land from the coast of Watsonville to the valleys of Hollister. They’ve been a Bi-Rite rock star this summer, with their produce quality so top-notch.  We have great deals on their dry farmed Early Girls and heirloom varieties like the Cherokee Purple, Marvel Stripe and Brandywine. We’ve tasted a lot of local tomatoes this season and these are by far the most flavorful!

Mariquita Farm in Hollister has done a terrific job keeping their ripe Albion Strawberries on our shelves all summer long.  This is not an easy task considering how the hot weather ripens them extra quickly and the cool weather slows them down, but Farmer Andy seems to have his green thumb on it.  And their Spanish Padron peppers never get old!

Yerena Berry Farm in the rolling hills off the coast of Monterey is the raspberry king! From little berries that pack a sweet punch to the large, plump, juicy ones that melt in your mouth, Yerena has a berry for everyone.

Capay Farm = Candy Stripe Figs; the flavor and texture get better with each delivery.

Apple season is in full swing right now and we are very fortunate to have three farms that help us celebrate the season:

  • Coco Ranch, an organic certified ranch between Winters and Davis, grows a lot of cool heirloom varieties that are hard to find, along with others like the Sommerfeld (a cross between Gala and Fuji). 
  • Devoto Gardens in Sebastopol is another orchard that grows heirloom varieties like the Jonathan; with its crispy texture and sweet/tart flavor, it eats great out of hand and is one of the best baking apples of the season. The crunchy green Mutsu will be ready for harvest by the end of the month.
  • Hidden Star Orchard has been the backbone of our local apple selection for the past five years and they are just about to harvest a new “September Sweet” Fuji.  We also have their wonderful Gala on the shelves and are expecting the NY Special (Braeburn crossed with Gala) by the end of the month. Johann also grows a bunch of different grape varieties; the Princess Grape is perfectly sweet right now.

Local pears from Frog Hollow Orchard are just around the corner, and Farmer Al always starts off the pear season with the sweet and buttery Warren Pear. This is one of those pieces of fruit that, when you bite into it, make you think you’ve never had a good pear before. Frog Hollow also grows the Taylor Gold pear, which will battle the Warren for “local pear of the year”.

Full Belly Farm masters the art of growing everything well! Most of their land is dedicated to vegetable row crops but they also have plenty of orchards.  Their peaches have been eating so well this year, and they have a couple more varieties that will come later this month, so stay tuned.  Full Belly has become our specialty melon grower; they do an amazing job harvesting sweet ripe melons that still have that firm and sometimes crunchy texture we look for.  For those of you thinking fall, they just started harvesting Butternut and Acorn squash!

All of this summer fruit can sometimes take the spotlight away from the coastal growers who keep all the greens coming! Free Wheelin Farm in Santa Cruz grows the best baby lettuce south of the city. Twice a week they drop off multiple varieties of baby lettuces; their full sized Red Butter lettuces aren’t too shabby either. And Bluehouse Farm in Pescadero is another group of young farmers taking advantage of their growing climate and growing big, tender bunches of Rainbow chard and Lacinato kale.

Oak Hill Farm in Sonoma, one of our newer farm-direct relationships, has been one of the first farm partners on our new Public Label line. In the spring, Farmer David asked me whether there were any crops we would like him to grow for us (talk about great service!). So we went for it, and Oak Hill just harvested 2,500 lbs. of “pickling” cucumbers over the course three weeks, soon to be released as a jarred pickle under our new Public Label.

Oh yeah, one last thing!  Although not grown locally like everything I mentioned, Keitt mangoes from Southern California are the bomb!  This is the only mango variety from California that makes it to the Bay Area, and it’s usually the best of the year; silky-smooth, creamy goodness that’s only around for about a month.


Simon

Simon’s August Produce Outlook

August bestows upon us the most bountiful local produce of the year, since all of the hot weather crops start producing.  We spend nine months of the season with limited options for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, melons, and grapes…then all of a sudden, multiple varieties of each arrive in our produce department!

Fruit

Local Apples have started to arrive, and as always the first apple of the season is the Gravenstein.  First planted in Sonoma in 1811 by Russian Trappers, this is a versatile apple that is wonderful for eating fresh, reducing into a sauce or baking into apple pie. With crisp texture and a sweet and tart juice, they should be eaten within 3 weeks of harvest or risk losing their crisp texture and becoming soft (at which point they become a mean juice apple!) Devoto Gardens in Sebastopol grows over 50 varieties of heirloom apples and Stan has delivered his first batch of Gravenstein and Pink Pearl apples. Devoto will be harvesting new varieties and delivering to our door through November. Another one of our favorite apple growers, Hidden Star Orchard located in the foothills of the Sierras, just started harvesting their Gala apples, with Fujis to follow. We’ll have their extra crispy apples through the New Year.

Stone Fruit is still coming from Blossom Bluff and Balakian Farm, but the selection from these Central Valley growers will wind down by the end of the month. Frog Hollow in Brentwood will continue to harvest tree-ripe yellow peaches and nectarines for the rest of the month, and just started bringing us their scrumptious Dapple Dandy Pluots! We’re patiently waiting for our first delivery of peaches from Dry Creek Valley Orchard in Healdsburg.  This small family farm is one of the only organic stone fruit growers north of the city that treats us to its fruit.

Melon, Melons and Mo Melons: they rely on hot weather more than any crop. Full Belly Farm has become our main melon grower over the past few seasons and really knows how to harvest them when the sugars are at their peak.  Look for the unique green fleshed Haogen and yellow fleshed Yellow Doll Watermelon. The Piel de Sapo (that’s “skin of the frog” in Italian!), another specialty variety we offer, has an amazingly sweet and crisp yellow flesh.

The second rounds of figs are ripening on the trees, and we’ve received our first delivery of Black Mission figs from Capay Farm. Everyone can’t wait for them to start harvesting their delicious Candy Stripe figs with their jam-like flesh.

Dry farmed early girls are at their sweet peak

Veggies

We are very lucky to have so many amazing tomato growers in the Bay Area!   Most of our favorite growers, such as Happy Boy, Full Belly and Mariquita Farm, are going to be knee deep in heirloom and cherry tomatoes for the entire month of August.  One of the really cool things about working with growers from different regions throughout Northern California is that they grow many of the same varieties, but the flavors vary depending on the weather and the harvesting technique.

Peppers are awesome right now! We have a wide selection from sweet to hot.  Andy at Mariquita was the first farmer in the area to grow the Pimiento Padron and harvest them at the smaller size; one out of ten peppers has a little heat and they’re perfect sauteed for tapas!  We also have the Jimmy Nardello sweet frying peppers and red Gypsy peppers.

Eggplants seem to be a vegetable that people either love or hate; it doesn’t help that the globe eggplants available for a majority of the year are not a great representation of how tender and flavorful eggplants can really beAt this point in the year, Full Belly Farm harvests Italian Rosa Bianca, purple and white striped Listada and long Asian varieties, all bound to turn any hater into a lover.

Every summer we get so excited to work a new small farm into our produce selection.  This year, Dirty Girl Produce, located on 40 acres in Santa Cruz, has been taking the time to delivery their fresh veggies to our store. Dirty Girl grows over 20 varieties of fruits and veggies and supplies 10 farmers markets throughout the Bay Area.  Their young farmers are harvesting some of the most beautiful and tender beans I’ve experienced.  We currently have their Haricot Vert french bean and some nice Blue Lake green beans… the Cranberry “shelling bean” is not far behind!