The squeeze of the freeze.
This January has been a tough one for our farmers, with six days of frost. If you’ve been watching the dire reports in the news you’ll know that it’s been the citrus and crop farmers who’ve been hit the hardest by the unusually long cold snap, but almost all producers have been affected to some extent. As the supermarkets will always manage to fill their shelves with produce, no matter where they have to fly it in from, those of us who usually prefer to patronize farmers’ markets could be forgiven for thinking we should shop elsewhere for a few weeks. But the reality is not as stark as you may have been led to believe.
I’ve just been to the usually bustling Santa Monica Farmers’ Market and it’s true that what I saw there was pretty grim. Yes some farmers were absent, yes some usually overflowing stands sported bare spots. But it wasn’t any major lack of produce that made it grim. In fact, there was still plenty of quality fruit and veg to be had. What was depressing was the very obvious lack of customers.
Jason Wong of Wong Farms, where they specialize in tomatoes, acknowledges the problem. “We did get hit by the cold. But give us a month. We may run out of tomatoes, but as soon as it warms up again we’ll be going strong.” The tops of his family’s plants have sustained some damage and that may slow growth for a while, but the bottom two-thirds will keep producing. If his prices are a little higher now he promises that, “When we come back full season, we’ll be back to the usual price.”
Granted, everything may not be picture perfect, but then isn’t it the taste that counts? Just think of the humble-looking heirloom tomato and how that ugly duckling packs a wallop of flavor. Even here in LA it’s the inner beauty that counts when it comes to good ingredients. So if the tomatoes are looking a little blemished, then the GreatGrub way is to start making tomato sauce.
Worried about a spike in avocado prices before the Super Bowl? Don’t fear. The guys at CA Organic Farms still had delicious avocados to sell. They were even pulling the ones that weren’t very pretty. They cut open one of the avocados deemed unsuitable for sale and inside it was as beautiful and perfect as ever. I bought from that pile. More importantly they pointed out, “We don’t raise prices, because customers start getting scared. We don’t want to do that. Even when gas was $3.50 a gallon we didn’t raise prices.” These guys are thinking about their customers at a time when they are at risk of losing 30-40% of their crop to the frigid air.
The Coleman Family was at their usual spot selling flowers and vegetables. Romeo Coleman keeps smiling, “Veggies are coming through. They may not be as big and beautiful, but that’s normal for now. Everything is normal size and normal price for this time of year. We’ve been here for over twenty-five years and we’ll be here for another twenty-five.”
As Romeo himself admits though, “The citrus farmers have been the hardest hit and they need your support.”
There are reports of some market farmers losing in excess of $100,000 in citrus crops. Dave Eakin who was selling oranges and pecans was pragmatic. “Everyone has damage, the question is how much.” He pointed out that the farmers and the inspectors are out in the fields assessing the damage. Dave’s not about to sell damaged fruit. Even if it got past the inspectors, Dave cares too much about his customers to do that.
Are prices going to be impacted on oranges, lemons and other citrus fruits? You bet. Worse, supermarket chains are already looking to buy abroad. The Los Angeles Times reports that distributors have begun to negotiate with growers in Chile and other countries to meet the national demand. But where does that leave growers like Dave? He tells me that he may have only enough oranges for two weeks (all picked before the freeze). The way I see it, that gives us two weeks to buy oranges from Dave while the chains look abroad. I for one am willing to pay a little extra for the sweetness that comes with knowing the hand that picks my fruit. And if Dave’s got pecans to sell then I say it’s a good time for pecan pie. As Dave points out, “At least the damn nuts don’t freeze!” It may just be those nuts that help him to get by - that and the support of cooks up and down our frosty state.
So now’s the time that the users of GreatGrub should brave the weather and get yourselves to a farmers’ market. You’ll be surprised by the variety that’s available. Now more than ever these local producers need our patronage. Here at GreatGrub we believe wholeheartedly in supporting the local farmer. They provide us with superb quality food all year round, but they need consistent custom to keep their businesses going. Small producers will only survive if we keep supporting them throughout the year, and believe me you won’t be compromising on quality in any way. Quite the reverse.
And if there is a small rise in prices at certain times of the year, try not to abandon them for the supermarkets too soon. I know I’d rather have something grown locally by people I know than something that’s been picked too early, sprayed with who knows what and flown halfway round the world before it reaches my plate.
So grab your coats, get to the market, and support the hands that feed you.