Opinion: An unexpected benefit from the California drought - FreshFruitPortal.com

Opinion: An unexpected benefit from the California drought

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Opinion: An unexpected benefit from the California drought

By Frieda's Specialty Produce CEO Karen Caplan

KarenCaplan_2013 columnIt always bothers me when I go into a produce department at my local supermarket and all the fruits are so large. Strawberries the size of billiard balls, apples and oranges (or even bananas) so big that you could split the fruit with a friend! And these big fruits don't always have the best flavor.

But why do supermarkets sell those gigantic fruits? Here is a dirty little secret: supermarkets have us consumers convinced that bigger is better, so they buy only large, premium-sized fruit. And they encourage growers to develop large-size varieties because the stores get premium prices for them.

One California farmer wants to change that.

David "Mas" Masumoto is a well-known farmer and author. He owns an 80-acre organic farm just south of Fresno, right in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, the agricultural center of the state. Mas is also the authority on organic farming techniques. In an interview in the Los Angeles Times, he talked about the effects of California drought on his farming practice:

"We've been experimenting with this petite peach method this year, where we're cutting back water use 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent on some select areas of the orchard to see how it responds….Can you not grow a small, water-efficient peach that has just as intense flavor? And you can," he told the newspaper.

And there it is: the answer to my question about the size and flavor of the fruits! Farmers have been overwatering their soft fruit crop (peaches, nectarines, plums) to get those bigger-sized, premium fruits. While the fruits do get big, the flavor declines.

Right along with the flavor, consumption of soft fruit has declined so much in the last 10 years that many large farmers in Central California have started pulling out trees because they have a hard time making money selling their fruit.

It is possible that the reason consumption has gone down is because the flavor and eating quality of the fruit have declined to the point that consumers don't want to waste their money on tasteless fruit. Why would you buy fruits that could possibly be flavorless when you can spend on the sure-bets like melons and citrus? I know I wouldn't.

This California drought may be the worst in 500 years according to a recent study, but there is always a silver lining in natural adversity. In this case, the drought is forcing California growers to use less water, unintentionally resulting in smaller, more flavorful fruits.

In that same LA Times article, Mas added, "I realize all these years I've been pumping them up with fertilizer and water to try to get them artificially big. So we backed off on the water. They're small this year, but, good god, the flavor is great. It's fantastic. It's probably the most intense I've ever had."


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