What is Rhubarb Anyway?

Rhubarb is often considered the darling of the spring season. While it’s technically a vegetable, it’s often prepared as a fruit in culinary practices. Rhubarb is sold by the stalk, similar to celery. It is well known for its beautiful crimson stalk color but can often be found in varying shades of light pink and pale green. Color is not an indication of ripeness or flavor. Only the stalks on a rhubarb plant are edible; the large leaves are extremely high in oxalic acid which can cause severe illness.

Rhubarb is naturally very tart and crisp in its raw form. Commonly, it is cooked or baked into desserts with some sweetener to balance the tartness. However, it can be used in savory dishes, pickled or made into a refreshing fruit wine. Rhubarb has a short season that only lasts April through June so get your fill of this uniquely flavored veggie before it’s gone!

 

*Keep a lookout for our staff picks noted in orange.

 

Fruit

Apple and Pear

Many of the early apple varieties are finishing up. The last of Ambrosia and Cameo are in house and Red Delicious is winding down. Granny Smith is very limited with not much available besides 88 count US Extra Fancy. Fuji, Gala and Pink Lady are in better supply. Fuji prices are on the rise.

But as apple choices become more limited, the wonderful world of pear offerings is expanding. New to the pear gang are Durondeau pears. These pears have rosy flushed, golden skin with juicy white flesh that offers sweet floral flavors and simply melts in your mouth. Delicious fresh, their texture is similar to the Bosc, and also works wonderfully in dessert recipes, cheese plates or salads. Argentinian imported D’Anjou pears have arrived and we’re still seeing great pricing on red Anjous from Daisy Girl. Bosc and Bartlett are also available. Lots to choose from on the pear market right now! Try offering customers a few different varieties on the sampling table and talking up newer varieties to create buzz around the program.

Avocado

More of the same on the avocado front. The market is tight overall and prices are going up again. Mexico production is limited due to the labor shortages in observance of Easter. California growers are experiencing a down year, reporting as much as 30% less crop than prior seasons.

Berry

Supply of raspberries remains a little tight but is forecasted to improve this month. Supply and price on blackberries has been steady although berry production out of Mexico has slowed. Strawberry season is in full swing! The sporadic rain in Northern California will impact some Watsonville production, but with berries coming in from both Southern California and local growers, supply should be strong. The blueberry market is steady. Homegrown Organic Farms is expecting to start San Joaquin blueberry production in the second half of April.

Citrus

Build up your citrus display with the last of the season’s bounty. We’re loving the juicy navel oranges from Buck Brand and gorgeous blood oranges from Beck Grove. Buck Brand is winding down fast on their fruit so get them while you can. B&J Ranch Valencias are done but supply will be steady with fruit from other California growers who are just starting along with Mexican Valencias .Some oranges may have a tinge of green which is caused by chlorophyll to help protect the oranges from sunburn. Green tinged oranges are ripe and still taste sweet!

Ojai Pixie tangerines from Shore Packing are winding down but there should smaller sized fruit available to keep the supply steady for a bit. Check out murcott tangerines from Wild River and Schellenberg Farms. Murcotts are juicy and sweet and perfect for juicing due to its high seed content.

Sporadic rain followed by periods of heat this year has caused lemon trees to produce large fruit. There are lots of large size lemons on the market; pricing is attractive for now. Overall, lemon prices are expected to go up. When nature gives you large lemons, you make a lot of lemonade!  Preferably with Maple Valley Co-op maple syrup, a great spring cleanse!

Grape

Exciting news from our grape growers. Early reports are indicating that we may see some red grapes as soon as the second week of May! Check back soon for updates.

Mango

Tommy Atkins supply is steady. Prices are holding for now, although trending higher than past seasons. Ataulfo mangoes are in good supply with sharp pricing on the 20 counts. Quality on both varieties is high. April is a good time to promote mangos, when citrus is winding down and stonefruit is not fully up and running. Get in on mango madness before prices creep up!

Melon

At long last, melon supply is starting to stabilize. Harper and watermelons should be coming in regularly over the next few weeks. Del Cabo will be coming into orange-flesh honeydew, Crenshaw and Piel de Sapo in a week or two. Now is the time to start planning for seasonal menus and retail displays changes. As the weather warms up, we’re dreaming of frozen melon balls and watermelon slushies!

Peach

The first trickle of stonefruit has us feeling peachy! California stonefruit season is starting a bit early this year with yellow flesh Amber Crest peaches. Quality is good and they are tasting sweet and tart, called ‘sugar/acid balance’ in the produce trade. Mexican Alta Kirsty peaches have started, too, with more aggressive pricing than California fruit.

Pineapple

The pineapple market is finally steady and imported Costa Rican pineapples are in good supply. Time to stock up on this delicious and popular tropical fruit! Did you know pineapples also offer a myriad of health benefits such as their ability to boost eye health, improve digestion, cure coughs and colds and increase circulation? A word to the wise, the bromelain in pineapples, primarily a meat-tenderizing enzyme can cause tenderness on your lips, gums and tongue if you eat too much of the fruit!

 

Vegetables

Artichoke

The artichoke market is very unsteady and demand is high. Production is picking up slowly; we’re getting all the ‘chokes we can get our hands on!

Asparagus

Recent rain in Northern California may put a damper on the asparagus market. Green asparagus is limited but steady. The uncertainty around supply combined with increased demand for the Easter holiday may cause prices to go up. We’re starting to see California purple asparagus come in but prices are still high. Imported purple asparagus from Mexico is steady.

Bean

Green beans are in good supply with new crop coming in from Rico Farms and Good Life Organics, both coming from Mexico. We should see some California grown green beans from Rundle Family Farm in May. Supply is expected to remain steady going forward. The arrival of spring means we get to enjoy everyone’s favorite springtime treat—fava beans! Prices are down on favas. Add these to your favorite dishes for a bright pop of color and a healthy dose of nutrients.

Bok Choy

Bok choy supply remains tight and prices have crept up on baby bok (mei qing) and bok choy. Unpredictable wet weather followed by periods of heat have made the transition from desert growing regions to local regions much more difficult than prior seasons.

Broccoli

Broccoli is on everyone’s most wanted list this spring season. Supply continues to be limited and prices are high. Quality is fair as we’re seeing some minor knuckling or uneven formation of florets on product available in the current market. With many growers’ harvest delayed two weeks to a month, we do not anticipate much improvement in supply at least through April.

Cabbage

The cabbage market is still tight during this transitional period of the season. Bad weather and delays in production have aggravated normal fluctuations. Prices on red and green cabbage have gone up and are changing often.

Carrot

Givens Farms and Sunrise Organic Farm are back in supply with Nantes carrots.  Coke Farm is offering a psychedelic purple carrot called Purple Haze. The carrot has dark purple skin and bright orange interior. It has excellent flavor, raw or cooked. Cooking will cause the color to fade.

Cauliflower

Growers are beginning to harvest new fields of cauliflower. Some growers are waiting for proper sizing on their heads so supply is steady but still a bit limited. Demand will likely outpace supply and prices are expected to remain high.

Celery

California celery is delayed due to the rainy January and February. Supply of Mexican celery has been steady but prices have risen. Quality is strong with clean green stalks and crisp flavor. Fun Fact: you can grow more celery by planting the base that is cut off from the bunch.

Cucumber

It’s not easy being a cucumber right now. Persians are still limited. Slicers are becoming in even more limited and prices are inching up. English hothouses production is down as our main grower transitions between greenhouses.

Eggplant

Graffiti eggplant is very limited and may experience a gap in supply. Globe eggplants are holding steady with excellent quality globes—firm and plump!

Garlic, Ginger and Turmeric

Spring marks the arrival of green garlic! Green garlic is harvested while still immature, usually before the bulb fully has a chance to develop so it’s not uncommon to see it at various stages of growth. It has a mild garlic flavor that’s bright and fresh tasting. It’s quite sharp raw, but mellows greatly when cooked. You can use both the white and the tender green parts of the stalk. Yellow ginger and galangal are in good supply. Hawaiian turmeric is winding down so grab some of this powerful health promoting herb before it’s gone!

Greens

Many varieties of bunched greens are still tight in supply as growers make their seasonal transition to local growing regions. Green kale, dino (aka lacinato) kale, and red chard are faring better than most with plentiful supply.

We’re in the final stretch of the transition back to the Salinas Valley for many varieties of boxed greens. Supply has been increasing and should be back at normal levels soon. Quality is strong with no major issues to report. We’re happy to announce that we’ll be offering boxed baby spinach, spring mix and wild arugula from Josie’s Organics starting April 18th. Josie’s has been growing out of the Salinas Valley since the 1920s by the Braga family and maintained the same high standards for quality, integrity, and sustainability.

Leek

Local California leek supply is tightening up with Terra Firma Farm located in Winters, California hanging on as the main supplier. Prices are increasing but with Arizona product coming on to supplement supply, the market should hopefully level out soon.

Lettuce, Retail Greens and Herbs

The lettuce market is slowly beginning to stabilize. We’re seeing regular supply of green and red leaf lettuce from Foster Ranches in San Juan Bautista, California, in the Pinnacle label.  Givens Farm is coming through with red butter, romaine and leaf lettuces.

Retail romaine hearts are still tight, which is not abnormal for this point in the season. Retail hearts are usually behind the rest of the romaine market in terms of catching up on volume after a shortage. New to our retail offerings are fresh baby leaf and salad blends from Josie’s Organics. Baby arugula, baby spinach, baby kale, half & half, power greens, and spring mix are available in 5 ounce clamshells. Baby spinach and spring mix also come in 16 ounce clamshells.

Prices on iced bunched herbs remain high but as more growers start up, the prices should come down. Italian parsley continues to be tight in supply. All other bunched and clamshell herbs are steady with good supply.

Onion

Spring is a transitional time for onions. Storage onions are done and we transition to short-day onions, first imported then domestic as they are ready.  The first onions of the season are short-day varieties, which unlike onion varieties harvested later in the season, have thin, fragile outer layers and do not store well long-term. Yellow onions are in good supply with Mexican onions coming on to supplement until new crop California onions are ready at the end of the month. California red onions are gapping due to an abrupt end to the season. We’ll be bringing in Mexican red mediums, which will be the first harvest of the season. Expect some minor cosmetic flaws, but taste and quality are solid. White onions are steady with imported supply Mexico. California shallots are winding down so grab some while you can!

Pea

California peas are starting up with snap peas, snow peas and English peas coming eagerly onto the veggie scene. Supply is still a bit limited this early in the season but with beautiful peas coming in from Mexico to ease supply, there should be plenty of peas to go around! Peas are a staff favorite around here, especially the versatile snap peas which are sweet, crunchy and oh-so-addicting!

Pepper

Other than green bells, which are in good supply with strong quality, all peppers are still in short supply as growers wrap up production in their fields for the season. Both yellow and orange bells are limited with prices on the rise. Choice and Large/Extra Large red bells continue to be limited and prices are up. Most chili peppers are limited, especially jalapenos. Serranos and anaheims are more stable. Sweet peppers are experiencing a gap in supply with no indication yet on when they will be back.

Potato

As with every spring, storage potatoes, in their search for sunlight, start developing a few sprouts. This is a normal process and can be hindered by storing potatoes in a cold and dark environment. It’s how nature spreads the joy of potatoes. Spring is also the time when we begin welcoming new crop potatoes. New crop California yellow “A”s are starting with reds following close behind. Russets are a little ways out, but fortunately there are plenty of quality storage spuds available at attractive prices.  Specialty potatoes are very limited; we’re bringing ‘em in as we find them.

Roots

Foster Ranches is done with parsnips in the Pinnacle label due to carrot blight damaging their last planting. Willow Creek will be closing down their production season when their parsnip crop is done. Bunched red radish is in good supply. Jicama is coming in strong with excellent quality. The samples we cut open were crisp and juicy. We love eating them raw with some salt, chili pepper and lime! Bunched red and gold beets are in good supply. Baby beets are back! These little guys are more tender than full-sized beets and just as delicious! Full sized bagged red and gold beets are holding steady but the jumbos are winding down. Chioggias from Duncan Family Farm are also winding down.

Specialty Veg

Rhubarb—the darling of spring is here! It is well known for its beautiful crimson stalk color but can often be found in varying shades of light pink and pale green. Color is not an indication of ripeness or flavor. Rhubarb has a natural tart flavor in its raw state. It is most often prepared for desserts with sugar to balance the tartness. Keep an eye out for nopales, expected to come in towards the end of April.

Squash

Many growers are coming on with zucchini. Supply is strong and prices will likely drop quickly. Take advantage of the flushed market and promote zucchini on ad or specials. Don’t forget about the ever-so popular zucchini noodle (“zoodle”) trend! In the world of hard squash, butternut and kabocha are both steady with good supply. Delicata, however, is limited.

Tomato

Heirloom tomato supply is tightening up as our growers are hitting some lulls in production. Del Cabo’s heirlooms are Fair Trade certified. Their availability is limited but we’re seeing beautiful color and variety. One and two-layer tomatoes are in good supply; the color has been spot on. Tomatoes-on-vine (TOV) supply is steady and prices seem to be holding. Sweet grapes are in regular supply and flying out of here faster than we can bring them in! Romas are limited but there are many other delicious tomatoes to fill your tomato needs!

 

Fresh-cut

Fresh and convenient are the name of the game and our fresh-cut program has everything you need to stay on top. Our list includes hundreds of items prepared in a variety of ways—peeled, cubed, julienned, sliced and more! We can even do seasonal custom mixes (think guacamole kits, mirepoix, or soup prep).

Check out joyloop retail packs of popular fresh-cut vegetables. Their items include zucchini spirals, sweet potato spirals, sweet potato “rice” and cauliflower “rice.” All items are sold as 8×8 ounce packages and have a long shelf life of 10-12 days. Talk to your Account Manager to see how we can support your fresh-cut program.

 

Grocery and Dairy

In addition to the freshest organic produce, we offer select grocery items from organic producers. A growers’ co-op, Maple Valley Co-op produces delicious high quality maple syrup and maple products using sustainable methods. Maple syrup is available in a variety of pack types—from 12 ounce squeeze bottles (no mess!) to 5 gallon pails. Yes, maple syrup is GMO-free, gluten-free and vegan!

Along with your maple syrup, check out organic biodynamic eggs from Stueve Organic, located in California’s Central Valley. Stueve’s chickens wander on pesticide free native ground, cohabitating with organic cows. Both the cows and chickens are moved to fresh pasture every two days—which gives all parties new fresh grass, clover, grubs and other insects. The chickens live, eat and lay eggs in a mobile chicken coop, which offers them a safe place to shelter and sleep at night. Their diet is supplemented with organic, methionine free feed from a local grain milling facility. Biodynamic pasture raised eggs are cleaner, loaded with Omega 3, fresher and incredibly tasty!

We also offer a variety of cheeses, yogurts and milk from local creameries, Mi Rancho tortillas, dried beans, quinoa and Hodo Soy tofu. Talk to your Account Manager to learn more about our grocery program.

Floral

Spring flowers have arrived! Full Belly Farm’s spring collection features straight packs of Agrostemma, Bachelor Button, Calendula, Ranunculus, Snap Dragon and mixed large bouquets. We love the whimsical name and showy blooms of the colorful snap dragons. These fragrant blooms are beautiful as a bouquet on their own or as part of a springtime arrangement. Sweet pea bouquets are still eluding us but should be coming soon. Thomas Farm is offering Dutch Iris and Watsonia in addition to cutie and seasonal mix bouquets.

 

Merchandising Corner

Spring Cleaning

Shoppers respond to a clean, well-stocked department and reflect that appreciation by having fuller shopping carts. A clean department (sales floor and backroom) also protects the quality of the produce by preventing bacteria growth on storage/display racks and cases. Reducing bacteria reduces product loss/shrink.

Simple steps to take include:

  • Set up a cleaning schedule and use a log to verify the schedule is maintained. A sample Cleaning Schedule is available electronically at veritablevegetable.com in the Customer Toolbox.
  • Carry a rag at all times and clean as you work in the department.
  • Clean mirrors on the wet rack with a mild vinegar solution (1 part water to 1 part vinegar) to prevent lime buildup without the use of caustic chemicals.
  • Sweep and mop floors once or twice each day.
    • Be alert to water on the floor from ice in the wet rack, ricochet from the sprayer hose and spills.
    • Utilize “Caution: Wet Floor” signs to warn shoppers of a potential hazard.
  • Keep a close eye on sample displays as they create waste. Frequently wipe display domes to eliminate fingerprints.
  • Don’t let produce boxes accumulate. Break down all but one or two boxes, which can be used for culling and rotating product. Carry boxes to dumpster or recycle bin safely and easily by placing all flattened boxes inside one of the saved boxes.