Friday, June 29, 2012

Today we have 107 local items. Instead of a steadily increasing number of local items, we find our selves with fewer. Although fluctuations are not surprising, we do know that our menu is diminished by the recent short heat wave and the one that hits us today will have devastating effects. While most of the US is already experiencing record high temperatures for the month of June, we have only slightly been affected so far. Even only two or three days of high heat last week ended our local strawberries and hurt our local raspberries. I feel for the farmers and farm workers who work so many hours in this heat. Amy Hepworth told us today that she pulls the workers out of the fields during the higher mid-day temperatures.

From coast to coast, crops in general will suffer. If there is enough and not too much rain, (not enough is likeliest), some crops will probably fare pretty well. Peaches and other stone fruit and local watermelons come to mind. Other crops may get a slightly earlier start to their season; most crops have started about when we have expected them so far this year. We have been enjoying local tomatoes for the last few weeks, but we don't have higher temperatures to thank for them.

So far we have enjoyed heirloom tomatoes from Farmdale Organics and Riverview Organics, members of Lancaster Family Farm Cooperative of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We have enjoyed red tomatoes from Plum Hill Organics, also of Lancaster, and from Hepworth Farms in Milton, New York. We have not had this early start of the local tomato season because of the high heat, though. They were planted earlier than would ordinarily be considered safe from late spring cold temperatures, protected from the weather by various temporary shelters. They include high tunnels, cold frames, hot beds and other housings. These tomatoes come with a high materials cost, and greater labor overhead, are very expensive, but many members have told me that they were worth it.

Most folks know by now never to refrigerate tomatoes. Tomatoes produce a flavor enzyme as it ripens.When tomatoes are stored below 55 degrees the enzyme stops producing flavor (permanently). The longer the tomato is stored in the cold the more the flavor will degrade. The water inside a cold tomato may expand, causing individual cells of the tomatoes to burst. The tomato may still look good but will be mealy when you bite it. I remember hating most of the tomatoes from California that I ate, and how boring they were compared to New York and New Jersey tomatoes. When visiting farms in California several years ago, I ate a California tomato straight from the field (close your eyes Amy Hepworth), and it may have been one of the best tomatoes I have ever eaten. 

I learned today from the New York Times, that there is another factor that has contributed to crummy tasting tomatoes. About 70 years ago a chance gene mutation, (not engineered by humans, but naturally occurring), was discovered. Breeders found that tomatoes with this gene ripened uniformly scarlet when ripe, and they bred this quality into nearly all tomatoes. Researchers have now discovered that the gene that was inactivated by that mutation was the gene involved producing the sugar and aroma of a great tomato. Now that this mutation has been bred into most modern tomatoes, it is hard to find great tasting tomatoes. The best way to find great tasting tomatoes is to buy the varieties that were around before the introduction of the new breed of tomatoes, the many heirloom varieties. I was always happy to provide these tomatoes, happy that they taste so good and are so pleasing to the eye. I was happy to support biodiversity and the preservation of species (yes, the best way to preserve them is to eat them, causing greater demand for them), and now we know a bit more about them and why they taste so good. Here is a link to the varieties of heirlooms grown by Amy Hepworth:

Allen Zimmerman

Welcome to The Regal Vegan's Basilcotta, a beautiful mixture of cashews and fresh basil. A welcome addition to our vegan cheese selection. Only $6.05!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Our menu is changing fast. This week we saw more apples disappear, organic granny smith and red delicious. Minimally treated local golden delicious and stayman winesap ended. The first new apples of the year will come late in the summer. Florida valencia oranges ended, but California valencia finally tastes good. The heat wave may have ended the local strawberries, but local raspberries are in stronger supply. Local black raspberries are trickling in.

Organic shallot supplies of last year's harvest are finally exhausted and freshly dug, not yet cured (outer skin allowed to dry), beautiful new shallots are available. Find them next to spring onions, below the cabbages. This Monday we may get our last of the season NYS asparagus, as the North American harvest is ending. 

The biggest changes to our menu this week involve the items that are now all locally sourced. They include all blueberries, red and white minimally treated cherries, green and purple basil, fava and green beans, red, chioggia and bunched beets, nappa, green and savoy cabbage. Also bunched carrots, purple cauliflower, fresh garlic stalks, flower power local salad, purple scallions, squash blossoms and all of the summer squashes are local. They include cousa or magda, patty pans, roly poly, green, yellow and striped zucchini, yellow straightneck and crookneck squash. We have our earliest arrival of local tomatoes, red and heirloom, all hothouse grown. Coming soon are local pluots, sour cherries and starting on Monday are the first local corn of the year. Next week we will try sugar baby watermelons with seeds from Lady Moon Farms in Georgia. This week we had very good seedless watermelons from the southern desert climate of California, which prompted members to ask once again. "What's up with seedless fruit?"

There is a very big difference between traditional breeding and genetic modification. Natural reproduction or traditional cultivation occur within the boundaries of nature between very closely related species. Dogs may mate with dogs, but not with cats. Pollen from a zucchini may fertilize a yellow squash, but not a pepper. Genetic engineering crosses genes between unrelated species that would never occur in nature, such as splicing an arctic flounder gene in tomatoes to allow the tomato to withstand cold. Organic fruits and vegetables cannot be raised using genetic modification and we will not buy non-organic produce that might have been genetically modified. Seedlessness and genetic modification have nothing to do with each other. 

There is evidence that Persians 6,00 years ago were very involved in developing seedless grapes. They were not the first, and in fact humans have been carefully breeding plants to get desired results since the dawn of agriculture, long before recorded history. Small seeds or larger fruits were among the traits that they sought to reproduce. Seedless oranges and seedless grapes are the result of cultivating naturally occurring seedless plants. A tree found on a plantation in Brazil in the 19th century spontaneously changed (mutated), and produced seedless oranges. From this single tree, every single navel orange tree has descended. You may well wonder how seedless trees reproduce. or more accurately, are reproduced. 

A branch of a desired fruit is grafted onto a different tree (or in the case of grapes, a vine), and fruits from that branch will produce the desired fruit. Some trees or vines will provide sturdier, healthier roots, but not the most desirable fruits. To this "rootstock" desirable fruits will be grafted.

I will leave you with some facts of life in agriculture and write more about them in coming weeks. An apple seed will not reproduce the apple that it came from. A red delicious seed will not produce a red delicious apple. but rather a random new and previously unknown apple. All apples are grown using splicing and grafting techniques. All citrus seeds may produce citrus fruits, but not necessarily the same fruit that it came from. There has been so much grafting and crossing of varieties, that any of the many fruits that contributed to the makeup of the current tree, may be reproduced from the seeds of that tree.
In weeks to come I will write about more aspects of seedlessness.
This week we have 118 local items

Allen Zimmerman

Friday, June 15, 2012

We are often asked what days produce is delivered or which day do we get organic delivered? We get produce, most of which is organic, delivered 6 days a week. In fact, we received 34 produce deliveries this week. For the past three weeks we received an average of 6200 cases of produce per week. 

We currently have 112 local items. Much of what we don't identify as local, is local, but unless it is 100% local, we simply label it as from USA. As each new item's season begins, we are unable to get as much as we wish we could from our small family farms. Sometimes you will be able to select the ones you prefer by reading the label on the box. For example, this week we continued to offer tomatoes from Mexico, but you will also find the first offerings of Hepworth Farms, NY and Lancaster Family Farms Cooperative, Pennsylvania. Our next new local arrivals will be on Monday, when we will receive tarragon, baby squash with blossoms, organic kirby cucumbers, black raspberries, red romaine, and loose spinach.

Next week, I will be writing about "seedlessness", as members wonder how seedless fruit works. Is it irradiated, is it genetically modified, is it a hybrid, how do they make babies, how can it be organic, why don't we have grapes with seeds? One brief point this week, and more to follow next week. Persians developed the seedless grape 6,003 years ago. I know that they were not genetically modified because the Persians lacked the electricity to plug in their electron microscopes. 6003? Well 3 years ago I learned that the Persians had developed the seedless grapes 6,000 years ago.

The following are the percentage of each type of grape eaten in the US for the 52 week period ending 3/31/12:
57.3% red seedless
35.8% green seedless
5.6% black seedless
1.4% all other grapes (This category contains all varieties of grapes with seeds.)

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Fedco Seed Sale!

Seed sales have tapered off, but now while it is rainy and warm, is the time to plant many of the later veggies. Come buy carrots, cucumbers, melons, swiss chard, beans, collards, squash. Also but seeds for fall planting! FEDCO seeds are now 25% of the price marked on the packet.