Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Deal on Local Summer Fruit

Living in the Northwest has a lot of perks, and our amazing homegrown food is at the top of the list.

It’s hard to imagine a place with better tree-ripened peaches, syrupy sweet berries, richly dark cherries and nectarines that burst with flavor. We’re happy to be able to offer fruit that is picked ripe and ready to eat.

Just like every year, my goal this summer was to outdo last summer's buying spree by continuing to partner with some of the best growers that the Northwest has to offer. My goal is to select local varieties that were bred for flavor, not just to look great.

Buying produce for over 20 years has really given me the advantage of watching growers for a few years and then deciding which ones are worth creating long-term partnerships with. Jim Reed at Columbia Blossom Orchard is one of those growers! Jim has been growing Organically in Mosier, Oregon, since 1993. While his farm isn’t large—30 acres—it’s large enough to give Jim a good living, yet small enough that Jim can be sure the fruit he grows and harvests is the best it can be. Early in the season Jim provides us with our first great Chelan Cherries, tops them with his spectacular Diamond Princess Peaches and finishes with what is becoming a customer favorite, his Red Reliant Seedless Grape.

Columbia Gorge Organics in Hood River has been a long-time partner, and a reliably great source for Van and Lambert cherries. I started working with Ron Stewart Sr. in the late '80s when Ron was just starting to transition to organic. Learning by trial and error, the Stewart family never stopped short of working to be the best. Tasting their cherries, one can’t help but appreciate all the work and experimentation that has made the Stewart’s cherries a summertime treat to remember year after year!

Out of Washington are Rebecca and Jimmy at Sunnyslope Orchards, who consistently grow peaches, apricots and nectarines that set the standard for others to follow. And the Takahashi family at Maryhill Orchards have been growing regionally famous Maryhill peaches since the '40s. Situated on a warm spot right on the Columbia River, they get the Eastern Oregon desert heat paired with cool night air coming off the river, resulting in some of the best peaches anywhere.

As I make calls each week to line up our selection, I realize how lucky we are to have local growers who don’t just grow good fruit but grow the best fruit! Come in this weekend and share with us the start of what looks to be another banner year of spoiling ourselves with fantastic local fruit!

Jeff Fairchild, Produce Buyer


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