Let’s talk more about them apples, why don’t we?
This week, I strolled over to the Culver City Farmer’s Market to see how much it would cost to buy an apple – specifically a Fuji apple, the crunchy, sweet object of our weekend sticker shock. In Oak Glen, these cost us $1.25 apiece, which seems insanely ridiculous for the most American of all produce, the one single food object other than hot dogs, hamburgers, and Cheetos that signifies our unity as a nation: after all, what is more American than apple pie?
Or so it goes.
At the market, Fujis cost just over a dollar apiece; at the generally overpriced Gelson’s grocery store near my house, they cost slightly more than they did at Moms Country Orchards in Oak Glen; at the Trader Joe’s across the street – sixty-nine cents.
Why in the world does a Fuji apple cost less at a chain grocery store than at a farmer’s market…or at its very source?! I did read that this year’s crop was an early harvest, which is why the U-Picks have ended and perhaps explains why apples are generally more expensive right now – but that doesn’t account for our little red friends being more pricey at the orchard where they’re harvested than in a grocery store nearly 90 miles away.
I’m absolutely perplexed and sort of cranky about the whole thing. I don’t have any answers at the moment, but I know that Brooke is just as curious (and maybe as indignant) as I am, so we’ll see where further digging takes us.
What this all underscores is that the modern farm-to-table chain is so much more complicated than when this Girl Scout Handbook was written back in 1947; despite the locavore movement that’s been growing since the mid-aughts, food is a massive global industry and most people in Westernized nations are insanely far removed from the origins of their daily meals.
In California, we’re lucky to have year-round farmer’s markets – and in Southern California, we’re incredibly fortunate to have daily farmer’s markets – well over 200, in fact, according to the LA Times‘ great Farmer’s Markets project. This makes it a lot easier to track the harvest cycles, eat locally, and get to know the people who are growing your future Waldorf salad. Therefore, I was pretty psyched to tackle requirement #11 of the Foods badge: Select ten favorite fruits or vegetables and make a calendar showing in which months of the year each is a good buy. Know in which months it is economical to can them.
Well, here’s my calendar for Southern California harvests, gleaned from a number of sources including Pick Your Own, Southland Farmers’ Markets Association, About.com’s Local Foods page, Seasonal Chef, and Natural Resources Defense Council. I picked fourteen fruits and veggies, because I’m an overachiever:
This calendar would look very different in most places across the United States – California is one of the biggest suppliers of produce for the country, mainly because of our steadily temperate climate and rainfall patterns, therefore we can grow fruits & veggies year-round for most varieties.
This calendar would also look different if drawn up in 1947: advances in food growing, preservation, and packing have made it possible for food to be grown and harvested over longer seasons; for example, avocados used to be a summer fruit – now they’re harvested year-round.
Prices fluctuate throughout the harvesting seasons; it’s often most economical to buy at the height of the season, when there’s an abundance of options, but there are other factors that come into play. For instance, I bought an avocado at the farmer’s market for $1.00. At the Gelson’s, locally grown Haas are $2.50 each and at Trader Joe’s, $2.49 for a bag of four from Mexico. I read up a bit on this buttery green delight and learned that in SoCal, we’ve had an abundance of avos this year. The early season ones were smaller and cheaper, and the current crop (which will phase out shortly) are big and fleshy…and more expensive.
The more research I’ve done, the more I realize that in order to get the best deal on fresh produce, you have to be fairly on top of it – know when produce is at the height of its harvest, follow any news stories about weather impacting crops, and talk to the growers at your local farmer’s market for the scoop on what’s coming up and how the goods are faring this season. Some people (including Brooke) sign up for a CSA to get regular deliveries of in-season delights, some track food freshness via digital means like the Seasons app, and some go old school with Farmer’s Almanacs or tools like The Local Foods Wheel – but for up-to-the-minute updates on your edibles, it’s always best to talk to those fine folks hawking fruits and veggies at the farmer’s market.
I feel like this Foods badge is really turning into a bit of a vision quest for us. I’ve spent the last two weeks eating fairly “clean” – very little in the way of processed foods, heavy on the fruits & veggies, with nearly all of those coming from several farmer’s markets in my area. That terrible photo up there is one such delicacy, whipped up from a recipe from my favorite California-based food blog, The Forest Feast.
All of this fresh produce has been good for my body, and strangely good for my soul. It fuels my desire to learn more about the stuff I’m cramming into my mouth on a daily basis…which is a good thing, because we have a lot more learning to go!