All along the cen­tral and south­ern coast­line, hun­dreds of Cal­i­for­nia straw­berry farm­ers are cul­ti­vat­ing the major­ity of all straw­ber­ries grown in the United States.

Nearly ninety per­cent of all U.S. straw­berry pro­duc­tion hap­pens on less than one per­cent of the Golden State’s farm­land.

The Cal­i­for­nia straw­berry story is about more than the effi­cient use of this prized land. It is also intrin­si­cally con­nected to the real story of Amer­i­can immi­grants and farm work­ers.

Today, in many cases, sec­ond and third-​generation fam­ily farm­ers con­tinue to farm and pro­duce America’s favorite fruit.

The agri­cul­ture boom hap­pened in Cal­i­for­nia right along­side the gold rush. Peo­ple were immi­grat­ing to Cal­i­for­nia to chase their dreams and find per­sonal suc­cess.

Straw­ber­ries made it pos­si­ble for fam­i­lies to set­tle in a sin­gle loca­tion where they could live and work instead of fol­low­ing the in-​season crops around the state. Some of these immi­grant farm work­ers started in irri­ga­tion or pick­ing straw­ber­ries. Many went on to build their own straw­berry farms and busi­nesses.

While con­sumers enjoy straw­ber­ries nearly year-​round, they may not rec­og­nize or fully appre­ci­ate the hard work and ded­i­ca­tion required to pro­duce them.</div.

Read more: Berry Good →

The pan­demic, for all its unique dif­fi­cul­ties, has served to high­light and inten­sify some ongo­ing indus­try chal­lenges.

No mat­ter what lane of the food indus­try a com­pany is in– grower, packer, proces­sor, retail, food­ser­vice, distributor-​there is an acute need for good work­ers to fill the voids.

This long-​term prob­lem has been exac­er­bated as the slow return to “busi­ness as usual” unfolds.

Worker scarcity, worker safety, tough con­di­tions and high turnover have all been height­ened by the COVID cri­sis.

Long term, com­pa­nies will have to sort out how to man­age the on-​going issues of lack of labor.

The entire U.S. econ­omy needs work­ers. Employ­ers hired nearly a mil­lion peo­ple in March. Job list­ings are surg­ing, with open­ings on career sites well ahead of top­ping their pre-​coronavirus lev­els. Gov­ern­ment stim­u­lus money has allowed some peo­ple to stay home longer than they oth­er­wise would have.

The hottest jobs sec­tors are those areas that “make or move” things. Con­struc­tion, ware­hous­ing, fac­to­ries and phar­macy are areas that can­not fill the demand. The num­ber of ware­house jobs listed on Indeed as of early April was 57% above what they were before the virus struck.

Retail gro­cery deliv­ery through the pan­demic has increased sig­nif­i­cantly. FMI reports that e-​commerce for gro­ceries grew by 300 per­cent dur­ing the pan­demic. The same peo­ple who may have held or taken jobs at retail or ware­houses before, now have mul­ti­ple types of newly cre­ated job oppor­tu­ni­ties. A con­tribut­ing key fac­tor is bet­ter or more flex­i­ble work­ing conditions.

Read more: Worker Scarcity →

Anthony Bour­dain cov­ered a lot of ground in his book Kitchen Con­fi­den­tial.

One hot topic that res­onates with all line cooks is the Mise-​en-​place. The orga­nized work sta­tion, unique to each cook, keeps the kitchen ready for every order mov­ing smoothly through the line.

It houses all of the essen­tials– sea salt, rough-​cracked pep­per, cook­ing oil, wine, but­ter, gar­lic, pars­ley, and so on.

One item in par­tic­u­lar that Tony claimed as a Mise-​en-​Place essen­tial for all pro­fes­sional kitchens is shal­lots. His kitchen staff used about twenty pounds daily.

A “take-​away” from Bour­dain to home cooks look­ing to ele­vate dishes, is to keep shal­lots on hand for turn­ing out tastier ver­sions of most any prepa­ra­tion.

Shal­lots are one of those fresh ingre­di­ents that we notice parked next to fresh gar­lic and the onion sec­tions at the gro­cery store. We fre­quently see them, but bypass them for reg­u­lar onion vari­eties.

Their del­i­cate, mild onion fla­vor (with a hint of sharp­ness) is pre­ferred for clas­sic dishes, vinai­grettes, sauces, soups and fry­ing when a hot­ter onion isn’t the right fit.

Read more: Shal­lot Woes →

Aspara­gus is a mem­ber of the lily fam­ily and is related to onions and gar­lic. The spears are usu­ally not har­vested until the third or fourth year planted to allow the crown to develop a strong root sys­tem.

After that, the healthy plants will then pro­duce spears for about fif­teen years.

Cal­i­for­nia pos­sesses sev­eral micro-​climates ideal for aspara­gus pro­duc­tion. The 250 farms that grow the favored spring crop deliver on the promise of local, fresh and hand-​cared atten­tion.

Sev­eral regions through­out the state are ideal for grow­ing “grass”, includ­ing the Cen­tral Val­ley, the Cen­tral Coast and the Stock­ton Delta.

Nearly sev­enty per­cent of the nation’s fresh mar­ket aspara­gus is pro­duced in Cal­i­for­nia. Har­vest sea­son is about ninety days long, start­ing in March and run­ning through May.

This peren­nial crop is labor – inten­sive from har­vest to pack­ing. Work­ers walk the rows, scout­ing for nine inch green spears to har­vest. Aspara­gus is graded, sized and packed in sheds located near the fields to assure max­i­mum fresh­ness.
Early in the sea­son, spears may be picked every four days or so. As tem­per­a­tures warm up, they may have to be picked every day. Each spear grows about seven to nine inches per day. Depend­ing on weather and growth, beds maybe cut mul­ti­ple times per day.

Spears are trimmed to lengths of nine inches and bun­dled for sales. Typ­i­cally, a one pound bun­dle con­tains about 10 to 14 spears, depend­ing on size/​thickness of the stalks.

Read more: Grass Season →

The chaos and may­hem of gro­cery shop­ping a year ago seems like a wild faded dream. Dur­ing lock­downs and stay-​at-​home orders, we found ways to com­pen­sate for long lines and hoard­ing.

As life begins to unfold post-​pandemic, new habits have emerged that retail­ers and food ser­vice providers have made invest­ments.

We may all be count­ing on new ways to feed our­selves. Online order­ing and home deliv­ery have taken the sting out of food pan­de­mo­nium. We’ve learned new cop­ing skills.

Meals can be either ready-​to-​eat or those ready to pre­pare. The pan­demic accel­er­ated ghost kitchens (also known as dark or cloud kitchens) and the wide­spread adop­tion of food deliv­ery by at least three to five years.

No doubt, food deliv­ery had the lime­light 2020. As con­sumers adopted new habits, the gig econ­omy surged in that arena. Grub Hub, Uber Eats and Door­Dash were on Smart phone “Favorites”.

The trend and adop­tion of dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies and e-​commerce was greatly advanced by per­sonal health safety con­cerns as much as con­ve­nience. Com­fort lev­els now push con­sumers to pur­chase prod­ucts online with con­fi­dence.

Already on the rise in recent years, par­tic­i­pa­tion in online gro­cery shop­ping sky­rock­eted in 2020.

Read more: Pandemonium →

Restau­rants are tun­ing up menus to reflect stream­lined offer­ings and their need to do more with less. Smart oper­a­tors are not hav­ing to com­pro­mise on qual­ity food that tastes great over bet­ter effi­cien­cies.

Now, more than ever, we eat first with our eyes. This includes scan­ning menus online or using QR codes on smart­phones.

Good com­mu­ni­ca­tion is key for every suc­cess­ful busi­ness. Menu writ­ing is a com­mu­ni­ca­tions art­form and tal­ent nec­es­sary for food­ser­vice providers. Chalk­boards, ink on paper or vir­tual links help sell what’s for break­fast, lunch and din­ner.

Words mat­ter and how they are used on a menu can entice orders and impact rev­enue. The power of per­sua­sion when it comes to food descrip­tions makes or breaks ini­tial per­cep­tions.

Set­ting appetite expec­ta­tions is only a word or phrase away. Loaded cau­li­flower casse­role tells the diner to expect a hot, cheesy, gooey and indul­gent dish.

Descrip­tions regard­ing culi­nary prepa­ra­tions pique inter­est. Roasted, grilled, poached, fried, toasted, whipped or stuffed tell much about what will be deliv­ered on the plate.

Sea­son­ings and fla­vors get prime text space. Smoky, savory, fiery, nutty, tart, pep­pery, cit­rusy, zesty, and but­tery get the mouth and brain work­ing together for the selec­tion. Food and mood are strongly teth­ered together. What food crav­ing needs to be con­quered today?

Read more: Eat My Words →