KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: Supporting our Farmers in Good Times & Bad
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Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Supporting our Farmers in Good Times & Bad

It's so much easier on Saturday mornings to stay under the warm covers with my cup of coffee and my newest book, but I have been trying my hardest to motivate and go to a farmers' market on Saturdays or at some point each week. I am making a point of doing this for the farmers. They have had an unusually rough season, and the most important thing we can do right now is to go to markets in the rain and support them.

This doesn't mean that you have to buy gads of produce that you don't want, but it does mean that you should give the small local farmers a chance. A chance to explain why prices are high, a chance to explain why their produce is looking a little bedraggled, a chance to tell you how the rain is affecting their farm.

The situation was best explained in the weekly newsletter produced by CUESA: "The anticipation that seasonal eaters feel in early spring has turned into more of an ache this year as farmers forecast smaller harvests on later dates for our favorite foods. But the ache we feel is trifling compared to the devastating losses for those whose livelihoods depend on California's fertile soil and sunshine. Storm after storm has discouraged pollinators, muddied fields and rotted flowers and berries; many farmers are struggling through the wettest season they've seen in at last twenty years."

How will this unusually wet season affect what's on our plates this year?

Berries: The rain has decimated strawberry crops throughout the area. Swanton Berry Farm which usually has an abundance of berries by this time has just brought a small fraction of their usual harvest to market. My own CSA had to cancel their May strawberry days due to the small yield of inferior strawberries.

Grapes: If the rain continues in the next couple of weeks, the size of the 2006 local wine harvest could be much lower than predicted.

Stonefruit: Cherries, peaches, apricots, and other stonefruit are in jeopardy. If we continue to have warm days like today, then we may be in the clear, but more rain (as is predicted at the end of this week) may jeopardize the stonefruit crops.

Tomatoes: Though tomato season is months away, farmers have been unable to get their seedlings into the ground due to wet and soggy conditions.

Lettuces: All types of lettuces are being hard hit. Prices will be higher for a while, and the quality may not be what we're used to.

What can we do about all this gloom and doom news? We can't really stop the rain, so we will have to support farmers to the best of our ability with our wallets.

We can hit the farmers' markets. Bundle up if necessary, and wear your galoshes. The farmers will be there, so let's give them a reason to drive their trucks into the city. Small crowds are discouraging to the farmer after they've worked so hard to bring what they do have to market.

We can taste before judging. Chances are that when apricots come to the market, they will be sort of ugly and have some brown spots. But there is a good chance that they will actually taste great. Don't be quick to dismiss the ugly fruit, and listen to the farmers when they tell you why it looks the way it does.

We can adjust our spring repertoires to match what's available locally. I am as ready for spring peas and strawberries as the next person, but instead this week I was cooking yet another butternut squash. In the grand scheme of things, a few more weeks of butternut squash isn't going to kill me, and I feel good supporting my local farms instead of buying foreign strawberries to meet my craving.

For more information, you can read some of the great references below, or you can head out to a market and ask your local farmers how the rain has affected them and what we can expect in the coming months.

Greenleaf Produce Newsletter, 4/17/06 (pdf)
CUESA Newsletter, 4/14/06
Grape growers fret about persistent rain, SF Chronicle, 4/6/06
California rains spell produce woes, Anchorage Daily News, 4/12/06.


Blogger Tea said...

Great post, Jen. I've always liked rainy days at the market--fewer crowds and the vendors are happy to chat. A farmer told me once that he really knew who his customers were in the winter and on rainy days.

4/18/2006 12:26 PM

Blogger Pim said...

What a lovely post Jen.

And my goodie-two-shoes self would like to tell you that I've been going to the market every Saturday...though perhaps I should admit that it's got less to do with choice than simply being dragged out of bed by David. Rain or shine, diners are showing up at Manresa at six, so rain or shine we go to market!

4/18/2006 12:33 PM

Blogger Sam said...

me too - rain or shine - I am there by 7.45 am every week as I have to be at work by 9. Damn those saturday work days that dont even allow me a one hour lie in anymore, pah! I get there so early I don't even bump into Pim and David anymore!

At least you can get quick environment-unfriendly parking at that unearthly time of the morning!

4/18/2006 1:59 PM

Blogger Jennifer Maiser said...

Tea, Pim and Sam -- I feel like you all are the good students in school. Pim's kind of like the student who's good just cause she hangs out with the cute valedictorian - good by association. But the secret Pim? We knew that you were good before that too -- you are a farmers' market kind of gal.

4/18/2006 4:59 PM

Blogger Culinarily Curious said...

I'm with Tea... I actually enjoy rainy days at the market. It's quieter, I get a chance to visit, and -- perhaps *especially* in the rain, the fresh (if not gorgeous) produce is an indication that it WILL stop raining someday...

4/18/2006 9:37 PM

Anonymous dirty girl said...

farmer's note: i've always been impressed with the regulars at the saturday morning ferry plaza fm when it is raining. head to toe patagonia, umbrelas, boots, even small tarps on their market baskets. in and out quick in between squalls less a fat wallet. rain keeps the tourists away, hard-core foodies are unstoppable. farm-on!

4/20/2006 4:59 PM

Anonymous Rob D said...

I had some strawberries today at the market and they were not so great. I was hoping for some good berries this year. and whats up with the "Don't Buy Swanton" Guy is there something going on?

7/08/2006 3:48 PM

Anonymous Sany Bloom said...

I talked with him in San Rafeal last week he is trying to get some equipement back that the farm won't give back. Seems to be a alright guy. And I know what you mean about the berries, not so sweet. I made a shortcake and all was good with a little honey.

7/08/2006 4:12 PM


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