FARMERS' MARKET: Looking into the crystal ball...
Yes. The Frost of ’07. It was a doozy for local agriculture, and despite early reports citing everything from “All is well! Remain calm!” to “OMGWTFFROZEN!!11!”, local farmers in Coachella and San Joaquin are still saying they won’t have a real idea of the damage done until another week goes by. Damaged fruit will begin to brown up by then, giving them a clearer picture of what the rest of their season is going to look like.
Since most of the farmers have been doing this for a long time, they can make a pretty good guess at what the hard frost will yield. Some are raising prices in anticipation of more bad news. Some are just matching wholesale costs, like Gless Ranch above. Gless Ranch has really great winter citrus (it was their oranges that were featured in the salad in my Alhambra post). My $2 bag of oranges went up to $3.50. I happily ponied up the cash, keeping my mouth shut. I had overheard no less than five customers bemoaning the frost cost. The vendors were all smiles and understanding. But I kept my queries to the vendors who knew me best.
Decided to pick up some celeriac this week. I did a little more research last week and felt the need to give this beast a shot in my kitchen. No firm plans for it yet, but I’ll probably document prepping it.
One of my absolute favorite spring crops is the artichoke. They’re beginning to make appearances again, albeit at beginning-of-the-season prices. This is another crop I’ve been concerned about post-frost. Word is that most of them survived ok, but we’ll likely see less attractive looking heads. The hearts will still be good. In fact one vendor said the cold might sweeten them up a bit (will have to look into this). But the leaves will probably look a bit worse for wear.
Mmm. Strawberries. Vendors still had plenty of flats out, but all were pessimistic about supplies in the coming weeks. If you’ve been toying with the thought of purchasing, toy no more. In the coming weeks the available fruit may not be up to the usual high quality standards.
And lets talk about those standards a bit, shall we? We encounter hard frosts like this on an average of every decade or so (we were actually a bit overdue for this one). We’re just now starting to see what is going to be a much wider ripple effect in southern California agriculture. One of my usual vendors, Joe, said he’s pretty ok with citrus for the next couple of weeks (he had crews out picking crops as fast as possible prior to the frost), but once we hit February, it’s going to be slim pickings. Does that mean the market is going to be unable to provide you with what you need? Of course not.
We are used to having what we want when we want it. Regular farmers’ market goers tend to be more in sync with seasonal availability just from experience. But even this latest kink in the chain is a bit out of our realm of familiarity. So, some tips if you’re shopping local markets in the coming weeks:
Quality will take a dive, so lower some of your expectations. Everything was kissed by frost. This was good for heartier greens like kale and brussel sprouts, and very bad for citrus, tender greens, strawberries…well pretty much everything.
Learn to try new things. The variety of available produce here continually surprises me. If you see something you want, but it looks in bad shape, try out the produce sitting next to it that looks good. A ton of celery was split today due to frost burst. But the celeriac and turnips looked beautiful. Arugula was semi-wilty. But mustard greens were gorgeous. You get the picture.
Talk to your vendors. They’ll tell you when the clock is up for some produce. Citrus is normally around well into summertime, but conversations I’ve had with my vendors say that the next few months will be spotty at best. They’ll tell you what they have and for how long they’ll have it. Use that knowledge to your advantage and purchase accordingly.
Despite the prices going up, you still want to support your local markets, perhaps now more than ever. They’ll still strive to bring good local food to your table, despite the fact that they will be hurting well past summer. Did you know the greenhouses protecting this summer’s tomato seedlings couldn’t battle the cold? So now on top of damaged winter crops, this year’s summer crops are in jeopardy before they could even hit the ground. Be patient and follow tip number two. Your vendor will be more than happy to suggest something new for you.