Tuesday, April 18, 2006

KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: Supporting our Farmers in Good Times & Bad

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."

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