May is an exciting month in the Produce department; it’s a month of transition. It’s the month where we really start seeing a consistent change in our product line in the Produce department. Every area of the department—fruit, vegetables, and storage crops—undergoes some level of transition.
May is the month where we really start to see the benefits of spring. As Willy West Produce Manager Megan Minnick stated in last month’s Reader article, April is a lean month for veg. California growers transition from the desert regions to the cooler valley regions. Supplies are tight, and we rely heavily on Mexican growers to supply us with our fresh vegetables. In May, the cool weather crops coming out of California are in full swing, and quality and price are consistently good.
Bunched greens tend to size up, and prices come down. Quality in general improves dramatically in comparison to the March/April crops. California growers know locally grown pressure is just around the corner, so product is priced to move.
We’ll transition from Mexico to California asparagus. Just as with the greens market, prices will tend to soften to encourage sales, if yields are high. Unlike greens, California asparagus growers don’t feel as much pressure from the midwest. One region follows the other: as California volume winds down, other regions are just coming into season. Weather permitting, we’ll see our first locally grown asparagus from Tipi Produce and Keewaydin Organics towards the end of the month.
Locally, we’re looking forward to hoophouse radishes and baby turnips, over-wintered spinach, green garlic, watercress, sorrel, and rhubarb (my favorite vegetable!). We may see the first local spring mix, arugula, over-wintered sunchokes and turnips, spring onions, and scallions. Keep an eye out for these items, as the cool May weather produces succulent, sweetest crops of the year! As soon as we get the word from the grower, we’ll get it posted on our Facebook page.
Mushrooms and ramps
And then, there’s the elusive morel mushroom and ramps. Hunters we’ve talked to in April are looking forward to a bumper season. Winter snows have put plenty of moisture in the ground, and once daytime temperatures consistently reach the upper 60’s, these gems will start poppin’. Ramps tend to come on a bit earlier than morels, and often you’ll find them together. While you’ll find them in the Co-op, I really encourage you to get out in the woods, and do some hunting of your own.
In the Produce department, we refer to potatoes, garlic, onions, sweet potatoes, and winter squash as “storage” items. While our product line doesn’t change drastically, sales on these items do. Winter squash availability tightens as product transitions to Mexico and South America. In general, price goes up, and quality goes down on winter squash through the spring and summer months.
Potatoes also transition. Pricing and quality on the previous season’s harvest tend to come down. We’ll start seeing the first of the 2013 crop coming from the West Coast, however volume can’t support the demand, and while quality is usually excellent, prices tend to be high until harvesting begins in late summer in the major potato growing regions.
Our fruit section experience the most changes across the board in May, and as the domestic apple and citrus season winds down, the change is more than welcome. This year, there’s good news, and bad news. The good news is it’s the beginning of the summer fruit season! The bad news: the season is behind, and early volume on these items is expected to be down as a result of colder than normal conditions. Ultimately, this means higher prices for the consumer.
Last year, we were selling Mexican grapes in April, and both price and quality were good. This year, our suppliers are expecting first shipments to arrive in mid-late May, with prices coming in higher than last year.
Strawberry volume out of Mexico and California is down as well. Neither supply nor quality were consistent in April. Prices are predicted to remain strong through the season as a result of the slow start. As the harvest moves north into California, hopefully, we’ll see constantly solid quality. Pricing should soften up a bit, and we’ll work with our suppliers to offer you some good promotions.
Peaches and nectarines
We’ll also see our first peaches and nectarines in May. Supplies will be coming out of Mexico, and while I generally don’t get too excited about these items, this year could be different. Peach and nectarine trees require a minimum of three to four nights below 32 degrees in their dormant stage to kill a fungus that prevents fruit from ripening properly. That far south, they generally don’t get this killing frost, and product picked and shipped green tends to ripen unevenly, and never really develop its sugars and flavor. The same conditions negatively impacting other early summer fruits might just produce a great peach and nectarine this May.
Citrus selections will narrow to dramatically. Rio Star Grapefruit and tangerine supplies will be gone. We should have Navel oranges into June, maybe early July. Valencia supplies should increase, and prices will come down.
Domestic apple supplies coming out of controlled atmosphere storage in the Northwest will wind down. Supplies will transition to South America and New Zealand. Similar to the potato market, pricing on these products will soar and remain high thru summer months until domestic supplies emerge in the Fall.
May can be a tough month for fruit selections, but it’s also the beginning to a wealth of changes. Summer is just around the corner, and so is a wide variety of peak summer fruit and local vegetables.
Enjoy the remainder of Spring, and take advantage of all the incredible local gems it has to offer! You’ll be glad you did.