Out-of-season fruits supplied by greenhouses

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Author: Rachel Silver

In Southern California, the seasons transition from one to the next gradually and without the unmistakable flare of the northeast foliage. Sometimes the only indication that it is March and not November is the holiday wares filling the aisles of CVS. The plethora of farmers markets in the region boast a rainbow of produce year-round, emphasizing the apparent absence of distinct seasons. Nevertheless, even crops in sunny California are seasonal and peak only at certain times of the year, belying the myth that all produce is always available here.

Every Friday evening, the nearby Eagle Rock Farmers Market sets up between Colorado Boulevard and Eagle Rock Boulevard and offers the Occidental and the Eagle Rock communities arrays of tangerines, apples and other local, fresh produce. On any given trip to the market, the vast majority of produce on display is seasonal for the surrounding geographical area. At last Friday’s market, numerous Occidental students,  some of whom make the short trek every week without fail, took home in-season produce including blood oranges, Pink Lady apples and avocados.

One popular booth in particular sold strawberries, blackberries and blueberries. Though strawberries are coming into season, blackberries and blueberries are summer fruits. Southern California has one of the earliest berry seasons, beginning in May, but late February is months too early for outdoor growth. The blackberries and blueberries sold last week were cultivated in a greenhouse, according to the stand’s vendor.

Farmers markets compete with supermarkets that offer all produce year-round, regardless of seasonality. “Some [vendors] deal mainly with vegetables. Some deal mainly with fruit,” Armando Cardenaz, a manager of the Eagle Rock Farmers Market, said. “A lot of them try to bring what people actually need.”

When a vendor receives frequent requests for a particular item, such as tomatoes, the farmer takes steps to bring that crop to his or her customers. As certified growers, farmers must receive permits for every crop they plan to sell. If tomatoes are not on their certificates, they cannot sell them.

As long as they are competing with supermarkets, local farmers will meet their customers’ wants and needs by growing out-of-season produce through alternative methods like greenhouses. Both outdoor and greenhouse-grown produce from farmers markets provide fresh and local produce, but seasonal produce is naturally peak quality.

How exactly these alternative methods compare, however, often remains a mystery for the average farmers market shopper. “I thought out-of-season produce was frozen before it was sold,” Larkin Grant (senior) said of the ripe, plump berries. “So I’m a little confused how it’s grown.”

Frozen produce is generally produce that was picked at the peak of its natural season and flash frozen in order to be accessible to consumers during these fruits’ and vegetables’ off-seasons. Certain crops, like apples, are completely harvested during their season and sold throughout the rest of the year. Under the right conditions, an apple’s shelf life can be 11 months, according to a publication by the Virginia Cooperative Extension.

On the other hand, greenhouses are used to grow crops outside of their ideal season, presenting different problems for environmentally-minded customers. Greenhouses can be used sustainably, but traditional greenhouse growing practices use large quantities of fertilizers as well as chemicals. Disposable plastic containers for shipping and polyethylene film used to cover the greenhouses create excessive waste as well.

Due to rising oil prices and a demand for organic produce, more sustainable greenhouse farming practices are gradually being adopted, but the processes behind the sweet February blueberries are hidden from Eagle Rock Farmers Market shoppers. Until more harvesting methods that do not rely on oil or the use of chemicals are introduced, consumers’ safest and most environmentally benign bet is to wait to pick up the blueberries and eggplants and enjoy the grapefruit and broccoli now.

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