Welcome to the New Year. It's January in upstate New York, and our options for fresh local produce are few indeed. We're relying on large western and southern farms-even other hemispheres! Now, more than ever, we face dilemmas in our produce purchases. Just how limited should we be? To what extent should we eat organically and regionally? Let me share with you again how I make the choices for what to buy for the store. Obviously, then you make your choices, and that affects whether my choices were smart or not. Your purchases are the feedback loop, along with your comments and suggestions.
- Our first choice is organic.
- We prefer local over shipped-in produce, and domestic over imported.
- We buy the best quality we can for the price.
- We avoid wax and post-harvest treatments.
- We try to feature seasonal selections.
- Then sometimes we buy stuff just for fun!
Let me use apples as an example. We'd like to carry only organic apples (our first choice), but strictly organic apples are usually from the West Coast, and often expensive. Hence, we offer local-but not organic-apples. They're grown by a local third-generation apple farmer, using integrated pest management and no wax. You make the choice!
Cucumbers are another example. In winter, organic cucumbers are scarce and expensive. They're certainly not in season, nor local. But many of you just can't seem to have a salad without cucumbers. So we get "kirby" (pickling) cucumbers whenever possible, because they are at least unwaxed-even though they're usually from Mexico. Then we experience the sad faces of those of you who want "normal" cucumbers. So OK, we get the waxed ones. At least, in our store, they're labeled as being waxed and from Mexico, so you know what you're buying!
A word on Mexican produce. I hate to tell you, but even organic produce will come from Mexico in the winter. You simply have to go south of the border to find summer produce (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, zucchini) in January. Quite often, even Florida gets froze out! The big western farms often have branches in several California growing regions (Coast, Central Valley, Desert), as well as Mexico, in order to provide a continuous supply to the American public, which expects to have the same items on their menus at all times of the year (broccoli, lettuce, cucumbers, strawberries!).
You want grapes? By January, the last vestiges of organic grapes will be gone. The grape-growing regions of California have winter, just like us. (Well, not exactly like us, but the vines are bare and resting.) Organic grapes won't be back 'til May or June, unless we start getting some from South America. Most imported grapes come from Chile, and there is a fledgling organic industry down there. We get organic asparagus from there. We got a few cherries in December. Who knows? Chances are, though, if you insist on grapes in the winter, they'll be non-organic ones from Chile. They will also be treated with sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas. This is a long-standing preservative treatment for grapes, fairly harmless unless you're allergic. (We'll keep you posted.)
You want a winter treat that's organic? Luckily for us, winter is citrus season in North America. We get all kinds of bright orange vitamin-C bombs coming from California and Florida. There's navel and blood oranges, lemons and grapefruit. The "zipper-skinned" Mandarin family gives us temples, tangerines and tangelos, as well as clementines and satsumas! Tangelos (Orlando, Minneola, Honeybell) are a tangerine-grapefruit hybrid. Temples are a tangerine-orange hybrid. Some of us think they are the best-tasting orange of the year: They have some seeds, but they are easy to peel, juicy, and aromatic. Look for them in late January.
Looking out at the snow and dreaming about next summer's garden? I know some of you are! I hope you're working on your Fedco seed order. Fedco is a 25-year-old cooperative specializing in seeds, bulbs, trees, tubers, and plants selected for the Northeast. We've given out hundreds of their amazing catalogs. I personally am working on our annual order of seeds to sell in the store. We'll do a group order in early February, and maybe again in March. Watch for posted deadlines. If you are a member, you will earn your member discount by ordering with our group. Of course, you can place your own order direct, and even wait 'til April 4. But note that the longer you wait, the more out-of-stocks you'll get. After April, you're stuck with what I've bought to sell in the store. Even with a mark-up over the catalog price, they are still a good deal.