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 GMOs, and the featured vegetable is the artichoke.

This month’s term is a controversial one: GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms. I am going to concentrate on food crops. Specifically cotton, corn, soybean, and canola. Whether you like it or not 80 to 90 percent of these crops are GMOs used in conventional processed foods. The FDA and USDA do not require companies to have to label their crops or products as GMO. Only Certified Organic foods cannot use GMO crops. Another reason to buy organic! So what is a GMO crop?

A GMO is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. An example in layman terms: a pesticide company brings a herbicide into a laboratory and injects it into the embryo of a seed (DNA) and that seed develops an immunity to the herbicide. The seed is then grown out in test plots and the seed is harvested for industrial farms.

These farms then can grow the crop, spray the herbicide over the top and it only kills the weeds, not the crop. So what’s the problem with that? The problem is you’re eating that herbicide. In addition, when the crop is flowering, the bees, wind, insects and birds that spread the seeds, contaminate other native and agricultural crops with that herbicide. As a result many weeds are becoming immune to the herbicides and becoming ‘Monster Weeds’ that can’t be controlled. Contact your local legislatures and let them know you want to protect your foods from GMO crops, and if they are used you want them listed as GMO on the label. Educate yourselves on GMO crops.

March: March is a transition month. You will see a little more variety show up on the shelves. As the ground warms up the two most popular perennial vegetables come into season. Artichokes and asparagus. This month I focus on the Globe Artichoke.

The Globe Artichoke is a perennial thistle originating in southern Europe, and is know to have been cultivated in Naples, Italy around the Ninth Century. Today the main world suppliers are Italy, Spain, France, and California. Castroville is known as the Artichoke Center of the World.

Artichokes like cool, coastal climates and grow to about 4 feet tall. They are harvested from March through June and then go summer dormant and are cut back to the ground to re-grow for the following year. The edible flowering bud is 4 to 5 inches across and the ‘leaves’ that you actually eat are ‘bracts.’ The flower is the purple fuzzy stuff you throw away. The ‘heart’ is called the ‘choke’ that supports the flowers at the base of the stem. Artichokes are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, magnesium and potassium. Recently they have been highlighted as a good antioxidant.

What You Will See Coming to the Truckee/Tahoe Area

Vegetables: Artichokes and asparagus should make their way onto the shelves. At both farmer’s markets (Auburn & Chico) there is still a lot of herbs, butternut, acorn, banana, spaghetti squashes, pumpkins, gourds, along with cool season leafy greens like arugula, lettuces, cabbage, chard, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and plenty of onions – green onions and leeks. Asian vegetables were also in abundance.

Fruits & Nuts: Citrus is still the main event in the fruit section, but look for the ruby grapefruits from the foothills or the Chico area. Apples and Asian pears are still a good choice and kiwifruit should persist until April. Blood oranges are on their way out, but tangelos should appear. Look for local avocados they should hang on until May. Quince fruit are available and very unique. Be creative in your recipes!

Meats/Fish: For those of you looking for local meats (poultry, lamb, beef, pork) and fish. 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).

Let me leave you with this thought for March:

‘Meglio un giorno da leone che cento da pecora…Better one day as a Lion than a hundred as a sheep!’  
~ Italian Proverb

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