What’s in Season in the Sierra!

Over the next couple of months I will discuss a ‘term’ used in farming, and ‘feature’ a specific fruit or vegetable that is coming in season. This month the term is a farm being Certified Organic, and the vegetable is Asparagus.

What does it take for a farm to be Certified Organic? You might ask yourself…Why do I have to pay so much for organic fruits and vegetables? Here’s why. For a farm to be certified organic you must adhere to the (NOP), the National Organics Program.


Federal Standards were set three years ago by the Federal Government per request of organic certifiers, to standardize organic regulations that all organic farms would follow. The idea was to make an ‘even playing field’ for all organic farms, large and small. To be a Certified Organic Farm you first have to be three years free of any synthetic material or pesticide use.

Once you meet this criteria the real challenge begins. Your farm is inspected annually by a neutral organic certifier i.e. CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers), Oregon Tilth, or QAI (Quality Assurance International). Your farm is inspected for: soil and water testing, organic sourcing of seed, a paper trail of seeding… to harvest… to sales and what isn’t sold…then, where does it go? Does it go to the compost pile, or the food bank. They also look at your crop rotation and farm operation. Do you use certified organic fertilizers or pesticides? Does your compost meet the organic standards? It’s a grueling three- to four-hour inspection and your pay $ 40 per hour, plus mileage from the Certifiers Office, plus a $300 certifier fee…That’s just for the little guy. Beware of the farmer at the farmers market that says ‘Oh, yeah we’re organic with no pesticides… we just didn’t get the sign!’ It’s not fair that those of us who jump through the hoops to follow the regulations and are undermined by the ‘want-a-bees.’ Stick to you guns and make sure that those who say they ‘are Organic’ show you their organic certification.

Ahh, but the benefits! Research by Allison Byrum of the American Chemical Society have showed that fruits and vegetables grown organically contain 50 to 60 percent more antioxidants than conventional farming practices. Go organic! What are you waiting for!

Asparagus is the vegetable of the month. The most important perennial vegetable grown in the U.S., it is valued as a fresh, canned or frozen vegetable. Asparagus is grown from crowns and take three years to start full production. Asparagus can be productive for up to 30 years as a perennial crop. Asparagus is known for being a great source of Vitamins A and C. It is also a good source of calcium, phosphorus and riboflavin. Asparagus is one of the few monocot (grasses) perennial vegetables.

It was first established by the early Romans and valued for its medicinal properties. Asparagus was brought to America by the early colonists, but not until 1850 was it planted by commercial growers.

Asparagus is harvested from April through June in California at rates of 1.5 tons per acre, mainly from the Delta Region of California. Asparagus spears are edible stems, which arise from rhizomes of the previous summer. Once the ground reaches 55 degrees for five days the spears appear rapidly and must be picked daily. Varieties include: Mary Washington, UC 157, Jersey Giant, and Purple Passion.

What you will see coming to the Truckee/Tahoe Area:  

Vegetables: I attended the Chico Farmers Market last week, there is still a lot of herbs, cool season leafy greens like arugula, lettuces, cabbage, chard, collards, few broccoli, cauliflower, and kale, plenty of onions, green onions, and leeks. Asian vegetables were also in abundance. I was surprised that there wasn’t a lot of local strawberries, artichokes or asparagus but they all said it would be in abundance by mid-April.

Fruits & Nuts: Citrus was slowly winding down…blood oranges and grapefruits were done, but the popular Valencia oranges were still available. Kiwis were few and far between and apples and pears were slim.

Meats/Fish: Easter nears! Order your leg of lamb or pork roast for Easter! Contact these local producers. Grass-fed Beef: Thompson Valley Ranch Beef (tvrgrassfed.com), and Coffee Pot Ranch (coffeepotranch.com). Natural Pork: Coffee Pot Ranch. Grass-fed Lamb: Coffee Pot Ranch and Flying Mule Farm (flyingmulefarm.com). Check out their meat buying clubs! Free-Range Poultry/Eggs: Trails End Farm (Susanville), New Moon Natural Foods. Wild Fish: Little Fish Company (Auburn Farmers Market).

Greenhouse/Cold Frames in Truckee/Tahoe: For those of you with greenhouses and cold frames, time for you to start your vegetable starts in the Truckee/Tahoe area. Some rules of thumb…once your soil reaches 55 degrees direct seed your spinach, lettuces, arugula, and kales. For transplants, seed your Brassicas (broccoli, cabbages), tomatoes, herbs, squash, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers in plug trays or six packs. April is the time if you want them by late summer!

Let me leave you with this thought for April:
From the King to the Beggar…they all depend on the Farm.
~ Irish Proverb

~ Gary Romano owns Sierra Valley Farms, which sits on some of his family’s original 3,600-acre ranch in Beckwourth. sierravalleyfarms.com.


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