A great question was posted on our facebook page this weekend. “What happened to local organic produce from local farmers? Why are we getting, it seems like, everything from Mexico?” To those of us who garden, farm, work , and live amongst Skagit County croplands, the answer seems apparent. For produce eaters living, working, and shopping in the city, making the connection between the fallow fields of our local winter landscape and fresh lettuce from California and Mexico requires a bit of explanation.
There is a lot of produce grown in Skagit County and surrounding areas, but most of those crops aren’t planted until late-March to mid-April. In order to thrive, seeds and plants need sunshine, warm weather, and fertile soil with no standing water. If our spring is particularly long and wet, some seed may not get planted until May. Leafy greens are relatively fast-growing, needing as little as 60 days to mature to a harvest size. That is why some of the first local crops we see are Spinach and Lettuce, usually ready in late May if spring weather has cooperated. Other crops,like carrots, cucumbers, and herbs, need more time. Tree fruits, like apples and peaches, are better grown on the east side of the mountains, where the weather is drier and warmer. Right now, those trees are just starting to bud and bloom. Fruit will begin to set in a month or two. The first tree crops to harvest are usually cherries, beginning in late June. Peaches and nectarines are next, harvesting August through September. Because cherries, peaches, and nectarines don’t store well, these crops have to be eaten within a few weeks of harvest, or preserved by canning, dehydrating or freezing. The earliest Apples are ready to pick in late August, but most varieties don’t harvest until October. Many Apple varieties are good for storing, so that is why we are still able to get a few local apple varieties in the store in April (that’s right, they were picked and put into cold storage last fall).
Root vegetables, like carrots and beets, can be planted through spring-fall, and will continue to grow into winter. That is why the Co-op still has fresh locally grown carrots even in February. Cool weather greens like Kale, Chard, and Collards also have a long season, so we are able to keep those locally sourced most of the year.
Berries: There are a lot of berries grown in Skagit County, but the season is very short (just a few weeks) and those tender fruits are very vulnerable to the weather. A rainy June can ruin our local strawberry crops. A cloudy summer can keep Raspberries from ripening, pushing their harvest time from July to September. Even when the elements are ideal for a perfect berry crop, fresh berries don’t keep long. Like peaches, they must be eaten fresh or preserved quickly.
California &Mexico: Because of their nearer proximity to the equator (ie,more sun!), and other factors that provide more consistent weather, the growing seasons in California and Mexico start earlier and last longer. As much as we love and support our local growers, they can only keep us stocked summer and fall. We depend on the organic produce grown in California and Mexico during the winter and spring months. If we only sold produce that was grown locally, then today (April 16) we would only be selling the following: kale, collards, cauliflower, raab, juicing carrots, 2-3 varieties of apples, burdock root, sunflower sprouts, red onions, jerusalem artichokes, beets, rhubarb,and morel mushrooms. If we only sold local produce, our customers would never be able to buy things like bananas, oranges, limes, pineapple, ginger, dates, and avocados, because those are all grown in tropical climates. If we only sold local produce, our customers could only buy lettuce late May-Sept!
Standards for Organic Certification are the same in California and Mexico as they are in Washington. Produce from these places can be more expensive because of the cost of trucking it 2000-3000 miles (gas is $4 a gallon for trucking companies,too) and/or because of high demand for that crop. Produce from these places can also be cheaper, because it is mass produced using inexpensive labor (that’s a whole ‘nother issue,folks). Either way, it is an seldom acknowledged privilege that we live in a food system that keeps us in fresh veggies all year!
Want to know more or have a comment? Visit us on facebook and start the discussion!
So,onto this week’s deals:
Organic Ruby Grapefruit – $1.19 lb
Organic Cameo Apples (Washington) – $1.29 lb
Organic Green Cabbage – 89¢ lb
Organic Celery – 99¢ lb
Organic Lettuce – $1.79 each
Organic Cucumbers – $2.19 lb
Organic Green Bell Peppers – $3.29 lb
Organic Red Bell Peppers – $3.29 lb
Organic Bosc and D’Anjou Pears (Argentina) – $2.29 lb
posted by Jenny,April 16,2012