Supporting Local Farmers Makes for Super Sweet Strawberries

Supporting Local Farmers Makes for Super Sweet Strawberries

By Carmelo Sigona

“According to the Weather Channel, 2 a.m. is when we should expect the storm to hit,” said Robbie Sigona, our produce buyer. Robbie and all us Sigonas always keep a close eye on weather patterns, especially in the spring when the weather can change at any moment.

We’ve been keeping an especially close eye on the forecast. The weather lately has cooled off, rain clouds have rolled in and we’ve all been nervous for our strawberry farmers; rain storms can wreak havoc on spring crops, especially strawberries.

However, once the rain stopped last week, we welcomed back the local berries with open arms. You’ll love the Albion variety strawberries from George Chiala Farms in Morgan Hill. They pick, pack and deliver to us all in the same day so the berries don’t need to be pre-cooled.

As a boy I worked in my uncle’s produce market and it was my job to “work” the strawberries. The Shasta and Tioga varieties were so vine-ripe and delicate they spoiled quickly. I remember the fragrance to be so powerful my mouth would water. It was a short season and when the season ended, that was it for berries until the next year.

Back then, people accepted the short shelf life of berries and other produce as most would shop on a daily basis, going around to the different shops and markets to find what they needed for that evening’s meal. Farmers picked and delivered in the same day for maximum ripeness and nutrient value and people knew they had to use the produce within a day or two or it would spoil. That’s just the way it was (and still is) with seasonal, farm-fresh produce.

Since that time shopping habits changed; consumers preferred stores with groceries and supplies all in one place, and they had come to expect their perishables to keep at least a week. To find a store without a certain fresh ingredient at any point in the year became unacceptable. It was then the produce importing business boomed and knowledge of what’s in season then became unnecessary.

We’ve noticed a much-welcomed sea change in buying habits over the last three years – one that focuses on understanding our food and where it comes from. It’s taken shoppers to produce markets for fresh ingredients and to butcher shops for a perfect top round, instead of one super store for everything. I’m very excited about this change and the resulting support for our local farmers. This keeps the small farmers and their practices going for our future.

The strawberries from small farmers like Chiala are just like the berries from my youth. The taste and texture takes me right back to the 1950s. I love talking with customers and their children to discuss how, when and where produce grows; it’s an important lesson for everyone. This understanding and shift in public demand helps support small farmers, like the Chialas, to continue farming.

With our support, their farming methods and practices don’t have to be compromised in order to cultivate the best possible produce. Operating smaller acres allows them to pick the best, ripest berries and can eliminate the need for pre-cooling before transporting. This method maintains the fresh-picked taste, soft texture and sweet fragrance of berries that melt in your mouth.

No discussion of the season’s strawberries would be complete without a mention of their health benefits.  Strawberries are packed with antioxidants, fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamin C. In fact, according to the California Strawberry Commission, strawberries are among the top three fruits that carry antioxidants! They’re also great for the heart. The folate can decrease systolic blood pressure, reduce serum cholesterol levels, and break down amino acids in the blood. Plus the potassium can decrease hypertension. These are powerful little treats and they’re on sale for $1.99/bskt. at Sigona’s this week!

Click here for recipes.

Click here for Robbie Sigona’s Produce Tips.

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