What's Tasty at Sigona's Farmers Market

June 1, 2011

Supporting Local Farmers Makes for Super Sweet Strawberries

Supporting Local Farmers Makes for Super Sweet Strawberries

By Carmelo Sigona

We’ve been keeping an especially close eye on the forecast. The weather lately has cooled off, we’ve had some cloud bursts…needless to say, this makes us nervous for our local strawberry farmers; wet weather does not make for happy strawberries.

However, despite the wet weather delay – harvest is running about a month late this year – the cool weather, is making for HUGE locally grown berries this season. Also, thanks to the few rain-free stretches we’ve had, we’re now carrying some super sweet, locally grown strawberries.

In celebration of the new crop’s arrival from George Chiala Farms in Morgan Hill, we’re offering you this week a free half flat of locally grown strawberries from Morgan Hill with your coupon when you spend $30 or more!

A half flat is a lot of strawberries, but according to our recent Facebook poll, strawberries are our customers’ favorite summertime fruit, so we know you’ll absolutely love this offer! Even with some rain, the Chiala strawberries berries are surprisingly sweet and practically perfect in every way.

We’ve worked with the Chiala family for many years to bring in the best strawberries. They pick, pack and deliver the same day so you know they’ll be fresh and sweet. These berries are not pre-cooled so they have a softer texture, which I think adds to the natural, farm-fresh flavor. It is also best to enjoy these berries within a couple days of purchase because they are not pre-cooled.

“Because Sigona’s is so close to our farm, we work with Rob to fulfill small orders – just enough for that day,” said Tim Chiala, George Chiala Sr.’s son and director of the farm’s  fresh market sales. “We bring up berries that are picked in the morning and delivered later in the day. You don’t get much more fresh than that!”

George Chiala Farms grows organic and conventional crops, and has carried over many of the organic practices to their entire operation. For example, they use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to control and eliminate different pests (e.g. ladybugs and lacewings to keep aphids away), they rotate crops too, which helps maintain the fertile soil. They also use the same amounts of compost in both practices. The Chialas continuously strive to study and incorporate new sound practices to cultivate the best-quality produce.

“We recently had a pesticide analysis done on our strawberries which shows there is no detectable residue,” said Tim. “Also, our IPM is working really well this year. We’ve established quite the population of beneficials which helps eliminate the need for other sprays.”

Strawberries that melt in your mouth

As a boy I worked in my uncle’s produce market and it was my job to “work” the strawberries. 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.

Tim (left) and George Chiala in their strawberry field in Morgan Hill, Calif.

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. However, once again, consumers are beginning to change the way we view our food sources and how they come to market.

This much-welcomed sea change in buying habits has come back around in just the last five years. It has taken shoppers to local farmers’ markets and specialty, independent stores for products such as local produce and, perhaps, the best grass-fed beef. I’m very excited about this change and the resulting support for our local farmers. This keeps the small farmers, like the Chialas, and their practices going for our future.

With our customers’ support, our small farmers’ 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.

For example, with the strawberries, Chiala is able to harvest the berries that are ready to eat the day they’re picked, which 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.

“We have a good crop this year and, as long as the rain stays away, we hope to harvest until early July,” said Tim.

They don’t just taste great…they’re good for you, too!

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.

Now…about that fantastic flavor…we’ve put together a few irresistible strawberry recipes for you to try. If you come up with a different dish using your free half flat of strawberries this week, please let us know – we’d love to post it on our blog! Don’t forget to check out my Robbie’s produce tips about strawberries, too!

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