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:
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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 be. At 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!
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 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 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.”
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.
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 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!
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!
Summer is finally here, and this beautiful weather really has things growing fast on the local farms. All of our favorite summer crops–tomatoes, melons, corn–have arrived on our shelves.
Local Stone Fruit season is going to hit its peak production in July! I’ve been buying produce for Bi-Rite for the past 10 years and this is probably the most flavorful stone fruit I’ve ever experienced! It’s hard to explain in words, you’ve got to taste it! Our favorite growers Blossom Bluff, Balakian, Frog Hollow and Full Belly Farm will be delivering a unique selection of fruit throughout the summer months:
- Full Belly is really excited about their crop of June Pride Yellow Peaches, which should be ready in mid-July.
- Frog Hollow just started harvesting their Suncrest Yellow Peach, already a front runner for our “best piece of stone fruit in the store” prize. Farmer Al will be harvesting this variety through mid-July, followed by the Zee Lady Yellow Peach. He will also have Ruby Diamond Yellow Nectarines in mid-July.
- The apricots have been ridiculous and should be around for most of the month.
- Marchini Orchard in Placerville grows super yummy mountain fruit and will start harvesting in July.
- Yes! We still have local cherries from Hidden Star Orchard in Linden CA, but they’ll only be around until mid-July. Then we’ll be getting cherries from the Northwest.
Stone fruits are like bananas: they continue to ripen after harvest. The goal is to harvest the fruit when it has full color and still is a bit firm. Most to the firm stone fruit we offer will finish ripening in 1-3 days at room temp and will hold 6-7 days in the refrigeration. I think stone fruit tastes better when it’s out of the fridge for 1-2 days before eating.
Local berries are in full swing and the flavor has been amazing!
- Swanton has been sending us sweet and delicate “Chandler” Strawberries and are looking forward to a bountiful July.
- Andy Griffith at Mariquita Farm is very enthusiastic about his 5 acre plot of strawberries. The plants have a bunch of flowers, which means there will be plenty of “Albion” strawberries, smaller but sweeter than Chandlers.
- Yerena Farm still continues to surprise us with their extra-special local raspberries and blackberries.
- Blueberries from Hidden Star Orchard are awesome right now; we’ll also have blueberries from Mom and Dad Mogannam’s Placerville Orchard throughout the month.
Local tomato season is knocking on the door and we can’t wait to let it in! Happy Boy, Mariquita, Balakian, Tomatero and Full Belly Farm will have specialty varieties of cherry and heirloom tomatoes starting in July:
- Cherry tomatoes are usually the first local tomato to ripen up, and are a perfect way to get the taste buds going. We just got our first hit from Happy Boy Farm in Freedom, CA.
- Balakian Farm in Reedley (just south of Fresno) has delivered their first harvest of Cherokee Purple tomatoes and will bring more varieties throughout the month.
- Full Belly has 4 plantings of tomatoes on 12 acres, but they’re growing slowly; their plan is to start harvesting the heirlooms by the end of July.
- The 1,200 tomatoes on our own Farm in Sonoma are 3 ft tall, and growing about 6 inches a week. We probably won’t harvest them until mid-August, but when we do, they’ll be extra vine-ripe.
The local melon scene is gaining speed! Full Belly has become one our favorite growers, and has over 10 varieties in the fields this year. Yellow Doll and Orchid watermelons offer unique flavor and texture, a far cry from the commercial red seedless watermelon. Some of the other varieties to keep an eye out for are the Galia, Goddess, Honeyloupe and Charentais. All of these melons have amazing flavor and juice, perfect for a big bowl of melon salad.
Corn is a very challenging crop to grow organically, as the moths love to lay their eggs in the top of the ear, and worms love to eat its way down the cob. Large conventional growers use crop dusters to spray chemicals and eliminate the insects. Organic growers have two main ways to cut back on the number of worms in their corn: crop rotation, and bacillus thuringiensis (BT) bacteria (which is harmless to humans, but produces toxin that kill certain insects.) We’re lucky to have Catalan Farm in Hollister and Full Belly in Guinda on the forefront of the local organic corn movement; they both just started harvesting.
One of our favorite small farms is Free Wheelin’ Farm, just north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1. The young farmers there work 9 acres on the chilly coast and farm soil that was abused in the past, limiting what they can grow. Over time they’ve figured out which crops grow best in these conditions; they now supply us with some of the most amazing local lettuces we’ve seen.
Can you say “local organic apples in three weeks”?? Johan from Hidden Star Orchard can! He’ll start harvesting his Gala apples in mid-July, and will continue to supply us with a wide variety of specialty apples for the duration of the year. Johan is also a master table grape grower; his crop was slowed down by the cold weather in May, but we should see them come in around the end of the month.
Have you heard of “mountain fruit”? Our staff is just starting to learn about it. Grown on higher ground, mountain fruit ripens S…L…O…W…L…Y, which causes the flavor to build towards serious sweetness, and the fruit’s skin to get thick and crunchy (in the best of ways).
We’ve just received our first delivery of Zee Grand yellow nectarines from Marchini Ranch in Placerville. One third of their 170 acre farm is used for growing stone fruit (at 2,800 ft. elevation in the Sierra Nevada foothills); they also grow apples and wine grapes. To achieve such big flavor, the farmers at Marchini use growing practices like minimal and strategic watering, and minimal fertilizer, administered only my hand.
Mountain fruit is picked ripe, and is best enjoyed when the fruit is firm. So don’t buy one of these Zee Grands and let it sit out on the counter for a week before you eat it–by then the flavor will be long gone. When eaten firm, mountain fruit is juicy, crunchy, sweet and more flavorful than you can imagine. Every time you bite into a piece, you’ll say to yourself “WOW!, that’s amazing”. Lucky for us, their season extends well into September!
Only in the Bay Area does summer start with cold fog and drizzle. Luckily the weather has been perfect since May and most of the crops on our farm in Sonoma have taken advantage. The tomato plants are already 2 ½ feet tall, and the summer squash is starting to produce a lot of fruit. As the farm grows, we continue to diversify the operation to improve the quality of the land and offer a more complete learning experience for our staff and community members who are involved.
As an extension of our Food Waste Challenge, and furthering our goal of learning what goes into making the food we sell, we’re raising pigs on our farm for the first time!
Every morning, our produce staff collects a 50 gallon bag of veggie scraps from the Market. We also have a slop bucket to collect dairy products and bread at expiration–all ingredients for the perfect pig slop. Every time anyone drives up to Sonoma, they bring a few buckets of these scraps that would otherwise go into the compost. We’re excited to limit the amount of waste at the store and in turn raise beautiful and healthy animals. The pigs are tended to on a daily basis, and love when Farmer Riley sprays them down with the hose and assists them in building their mud baths. Since this is our first time raising pigs, we’re not quite sure when they’ll hit that perfect weight to harvest them, but our eight little piggies are growing fast–feeding the pigs is the new favorite activity at the farm!
Garlic is a crop that takes a lot of help from Bi-Rite staff to harvest and process, but is worth it so we can have something growing in the fields in the middle of the winter when most crops struggle. It’s usually planted in late Fall and not harvested until 8-9 months later. In order to plant a garlic crop, all of the bulbs have to be broken into individual cloves and planted 4-6 inches into the ground. The crop usually needs weeding at least a couple times throughout the season. When it comes time to harvest, we carefully dig up each bulb and hang them in large bunches to dry out. When the moisture’s almost gone, the greens and roots are cut off, and the dirty outer layer peeled off each head.
This year I decided to grow our biggest crop of garlic yet, yielding plenty to share with our guests! We planted the garlic cloves in mid-October and harvested them the 2nd week of June. Unfortunately, the soil that we planted the garlic in was lacking in nutrients and didn’t produce large heads of garlic, but these lil suckers have large, easy-to-peel cloves, and are extra flavorful! This was a learning experience for Riley and I, and continues to shine the light on the importance of crop rotation and adding amendments to the soil, whether through cover crops or compost. We’re cleaning up the garlic right now and it should be in the produce department by July 1st.
One thing we’ve learned is that pigs don’t like eating garlic (or onions, or citrus)…simpler flavors for these guys!
Wow, it already feels like summer (well, at least in terms of what we can put in our mouth–not the wind we’ve been having)! All of the stone fruit that hit our shelves in May had great flavor for early season fruit, and June is only going to get better. The stone fruit growers are excited about the way the season is shaping up and our produce crew is ready to share this excitement with you.
Stone Fruit Sweetness
Cherries always kick-off stone fruit season in the Bay Area and the weather this past winter has allowed the trees to set up with a lot of fruit. Hidden Star Orchard located in the southwest foothills of the Sierras is harvesting extra plump and flavorful yellow Rainer and red Larian Cherries, we’re still waiting for everyone’s favorite, the red Bings, to ripen up in mid-June. Local cherries will continue through the end of June, at which point we’ll start getting them from the Northwest.
Frog Hollow Orchard in Brentwood is having an apricot season for the ages! The Robada Apricots are huge this year and they haven’t lost their amazing texture and flavor with their large size. The next variety will be the Helena Apricot followed by the Golden Sweet. Farmer Al has had issues with his apricot crop the past couple season, but this year he’ll be delivering tree-ripened apricots to Bi-Rite through the end of the month. Frog Hollow’s fantastic fruit doesn’t stop there–the Crimson Lady Yellow Peach is about ready to harvest and it will be followed by a handful of other yellow peach and nectarine varieties throughout the summer.
Balakian Farm in Reedley has been delivering delicious stone fruit to Bi-Rite for over 10 years, and continue to surprise us with new varieties each season. The first rounds of Donut Peaches are so ripe and sweet right now, and their small size and low acidity make them the perfect piece of fruit for the little ones. Balakian Farm grows not only peaches and nectarines, but also a wide selection of plums and pluots (plum crossed with apricot). The Santa Rosa Plums just arrived and they are super juicy!
Blossom Bluff Orchard, also located in Reedley, is the first farm to deliver Yellow Nectarines this season; they’ve been the perfect balance of sweet and tart. When stone fruit season starts up, most of our regular customers are hesitant to buy the peaches and nectarines until the flavor develops. This year the flavor has been on point from the get go, so it’s time to celebrate the season.
B is for Berries
Strawberries have been so good this season and will continue to taste great most of the summer. All of our strawberries come directly from the fields to Bi-Rite and we usually get a fresh delivery of straws almost every day of the week. Tomatero, Mariquita and Swanton Berry Farm are our main suppliers of strawberries, each one of them masters in the art of growing berries. Tomatero Farm grows the Seascape, Chandler and Albion varieties and it’s always a pleasant surprise to see which variety they deliver to the store. Mariquita Farm loves to let their Albions get so plump and ripe on the plant before they harvest them. Swanton Berry Farm focuses on the Chandler variety, so delicate and juicy.
Yerena Berry Farm in Watsonville has just started harvesting raspberries and we are so grateful for this farm-direct relationship. It’s very challenging to find a steady supply of local raspberries since they are so labor intensive, and Driscoll monopolizes most of the marketplace. Yerena’s raspberries are a dark vibrant red and the flavor seems to change slightly every week.
Hidden Star’s blueberries are to die for right now! I don’t know what it is but this year’s crop of big, firm berries is so yummy. They’re also growing blackberries for the first time; for early season berries they have a nice balance between sweet and tart. The Bi-Rite Family Farm in Placerville is getting readying to start harvesting blueberries at the end of the month, and should continue through most of July.
Melons and grapes are coming in from Southern California and have been eating well. The local stuff won’t start up for a while so stay tuned!
Can’t Forget to Eat your Veggies
With all this excitement around the start of summer fruit, it’s easy to forget the bounty of late spring veggies:
- “Fresh crop” Potatoes from Full Belly Farm are so delicious and delicate right now that they need to be displayed in the wet-rack.
- Asparagus is still coming in from local farms, but this could come to an end very shortly.
- Porcini Mushrooms from Northern Cali have arrived and this is a short season, so make that Barley and Porcini soup now!
- Corn has also arrived from So Cal and its sweet and not too starchy (but keep an eye out for the occasional worm!). Corn is very challenging to grow organically because the moths love to lay eggs in the top of the ears. Our produce crew takes the extra time to clean up each ear to keep the corn bug-free.
- Local summer squash has started up and Happy Boy Farm is growing a bunch of specialty varieties that are so tender and flavorful. We’ll carry squash blossoms whenever available.
- Local tomatoes are still a ways away, but the So Cal tomatoes are starting to taste better.
As an extension of the Food Waste Challenge we kicked off earlier this year, we’re proud to be redefining the age-old practice of Gleaning. In biblical times, farmers would leave part of their harvest to be gathered by the poor in their community, who could then feed their families. Now it is often our farmers who need the support of their community. Every year our farmers plow under almost 50% of what they grow when market conditions make them unprofitable to harvest, pack and ship.
We’re bringing the members of our food community together to “glean” this fresh produce, so it doesn’t go to waste. This is a collaboration with our local farmers alongside Bay Area community kitchens like Happy Girl Kitchens and Community Action Marin (CAM) Foodworks. Applying the creativity of our chefs, we hope to help farmers extend their season, sustain their businesses and bring you delicious produce-centric foods! Together, we are bringing you the best of each season, all year long.
As the seasons progress, we will be producing a range of pickled, fermented, preserved and canned delights for you to cook with. Since we’re coming up with the recipes ourselves and tasting every batch, you can be sure the taste and quality of our Gleaning Project “value-added” products (as they’re called in the food and farming world) will be just as good as everything else we make here at Bi-Rite. This is what a store’s private label brand should be!
Stay tuned to our blog, where we’ll announce each new Gleaning Project item when it arrives at the Market. And keep your eyes open at the store, where we’ll be sharing them in our produce section, deli and grocery shelves. Each new product will come with some simple, tasty recipes that you can prepare at home.
Join us in our new mantra: “PROUD TO BE A GLEANER!”