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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!

 

 


Simon

Farming Without Water

Brie Mazurek, the Online Education Manager at the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, wrote a *juicy* profile last week about the dry farming techniques used by Bay Area farmers in the CUESA newsletter. 

We are proud to carry many of the delicious fruits and vegetables covered in this article. We love the dry farmed potatoes that David Little sends us throughout the year (Yellow Finn, Mountain Rose, Red French, Yellow Laratte…), and  Devoto’s apples in the fall months (their Pink Pearls with the characteristic pink flesh arrived this week). We also have Dirty Girl’s jarred dry farmed tomatoes on our grocery shelves, ready to add to any dish for instant summer sweetness. Thanks for letting us share these stories, Brie!

This week, as the nation grapples with the worst drought in decades, the USDA added more than 218 counties to its list of natural disaster areas, bringing the total to 1,584—more than half of all US counties. Farmers in the Midwest and Great Plains have been the hardest hit, but the drought is a growing reality for farmers across the country, including California. While the Secretary of Agriculture won’t commenton the drought’s link to climate change, it’s at the forefront of everyone’s mind, and as global warming unfolds, knowledge of dryland agriculture will become increasingly valuable.

David Little in the field

David Little of Little Organic Farm has had to adapt to water scarcity in Marin and Sonoma Counties, where most farmers and ranchers rely on their own reservoirs, wells, and springs, making them particularly vulnerable in years with light rainfall. Through a technique known as dry farming, Little’s potatoes and squash receive no irrigation, getting all of their water from the soil.

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.

“In the beginning, I searched out people who were known dry-farmers,” says Little, who started in farming in 1995. “It seemed like no one had done it for 30 years or so, and then it wasn’t done much.”

To find mentors, Little made the rounds at local bars, asking older farmers about their experiences. “They were very humble,” he says. “They told stories about how things were done, and I would pick up tidbits.” After years of trial and error, he now considers himself an expert.

To help people understand how dry farming works, Little often evokes the image of a wet sponge covered with cellophane. Following winter and spring rains, soil is cultivated to break it up and create a moist “sponge,” then the top layer is compacted using a roller to form a dry crust (the “cellophane”). This three- to four-inch layer, sometimes referred to as a dust mulch, seals in water and prevents evaporation.

“It’s very challenging because you have to hold the moisture for long periods of time, and you don’t know how different crops are going to react in different areas,” Little says. Much of the land he farms is rolling hills and valleys, which present additional challenges because they hold and move groundwater differently than flat land.

Deprived of any surface irrigation besides the coastal fog, dry-farmed plants develop deep, robust roots to seek out and soak up soil moisture. Because they absorb less water than their conventionally irrigated counterparts, dry-farmed crops are characteristically smaller but more nutrient-dense and flavorful.

“When you water a tree, it dilutes the flavor a lot in some cases,” says Stan Devoto, who dry-farms more than 50 varieties of heirloom apples at Devoto Gardens. “Instead of having a really hard, crisp, firm texture, your apple will be two or three times the size of a dry-farmed apple, and you just don’t get the flavor.”

Devoto's beautiful apples

Devoto has been dry-farming in Sebastopol since the 1970s. “We had no choice,” he says. “There’s just not enough water in West [Sonoma] County to water orchards. Pretty much all the orchards are dry-farmed, with the exception of the orchards where trees are planted super close or use dwarf rootstock.”

Having wide orchard rows, which allow tree roots to spread out, is essential for dry-farming apples, as is thinning (removing much of the fruit early in its development) to ensure that each apple gets as much water as possible. In dryer years (like this one), Devoto must work extra hard to control weeds, which drink water needed by thirsty trees. As the summer progresses, the ground slowly dries out, stressing out the fruits as they ripen, which helps the sugars become more concentrated.

But while water conservation and intensely flavorful crops are the clear benefits of dry farming, the major tradeoff is yield. Devoto says that apple growers in West Sonoma County, which was once home to a booming apple industry, only get about 12 tons per acre, compared to 30 to 40 tons produced by large apple farms in the Central Valley.

Similarly, Joe Schirmer of Dirty Girl Produce says that his famous dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes sometimes yield only about a third of what their irrigated counterparts produce. Meanwhile, Little estimates that he gets about a quarter to a third the yield of large organic potato growers. “It it’s hard to compete with some of these big organic farms that are watering,” he says.

Without irrigation, his crops are at the mercy of seasonal rainfall and varying soil conditions from year to year. “You’re on the edge constantly, and one little thing could tip you over,” Little reflects. “We’re barely making it, really, but I believe in coastal farming. I believe we’re going to come back to it.”

While dry farming has geographic limitations, it could pave the way for more coastal agriculture and offer techniques for farmers in dryer areas to farm with less water. “The coast of California used to be our main source of food in the state, until they started developing farms in the Central Valley because of all the water,” Little continues. “Now they’re running out of water.”

Devoto’s Gravenstein apples, an early-season heirloom variety that represents Sonoma County’s agricultural heritage, return to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market this week. “Apples grown in the West County may not be picture-perfect or super large,” Devoto notes. “But the flavor is just phenomenal.”


Simon

Diggin’ Deeper: Visiting Some of our Favorite Farms

As Bi-Rite’s produce buyer I spend a lot of time talking to farms and building relationships that in the end provide us with amazing produce to put on our shelves.  One of the biggest challenges of working at such a busy market is finding the time to visit these farms and learn more about their operations.  This summer we launched our first series of farm tours through our non-profit 18 Reasons, giving members of the community a chance to get out of the city, walk the fields and talk to the farmers that grow their food.

Olivia (our 18 Reasons event coordinator) and I recently took a group down to Watsonville to visit Yerena and Tomatero Farms. We are very lucky to have so many small farms in Northern California growing a wide range of crops.  However, it’s still hard to find a consistent supply of certain crops from small farms; organic raspberries are a perfect example. Raspberries are a very delicate crop and labor intensive to harvest, so large farms like Driscoll have become the main growers throughout the country.

Ricardo of Yerena teaching our group about their farming methods

Poli Yerena, the head farmer/owner of Yerena, and his family are doing their best to change this. After perfecting his berry growing skills farming for Driscoll for 12 years, he started a small farm with his brother and his two sons. Ricardo, an agronomist, tends to the crops every day while Adrian takes care of the sales. Yerena Organic Farm is a beautiful 16-acre piece of land located in the rolling hills just off the coast of Monterey Bay. Yerena grows three different varieties of raspberries that ripen at different times in the season, giving them a steady supply of berries all summer long and into the fall.  They do an amazing job picking the perfectly ripe berry before it gets too soft; there’s nothing like getting a delivery of fresh raspberries that were picked earlier that day!

Yerena's experiments with heirloom crops: red corn, with shelling beans growing up the stalk!

Yerena Farm might be known for their strawberries and raspberries, but they are also experimenting with heirloom crops from their homeland of Mexico.   It was pretty awesome seeing large stalks of red corn growing 6 ft. tall with an heirloom shelling bean growing up the stalk.  The Yerena family was so generous, sharing baskets of berries with everyone and telling great stories about the family’s farming history and plans to expand the operation in the future. We’re so excited to support Yerena in years to come and can’t wait for their next berry delivery to Bi-Rite!

Tomatero Farm

Next, we headed up the coast to check out Tomatero Farm’s cool weather plot of land, nestled right on the coastline.  This 14-acre parcel gives Tomatero the opportunity to grow beautiful greens and brassicas during the middle of the summer when it’s too hot to grow them inland.  Tomatero grows organically on over 100 acres, comprised of a few different pieces of land from the Watsonville coast through to Hollister, and their young farmers have not skipped a beat with the quality of their produce as the farm has expanded.  Farmer Chris does a wonderful job growing staple crops like lettuce, carrots, basil and strawberries all summer long….but Tomatero’s most popular crop at Bi-Rite Market right now is their extra-flavorful dry farmed Early Girl tomatoes.  Please come by and have a taste!