With the growing season fully underway, the fields are starting to fill up. Our regular weekly plantings of this year’s crop mix are on schedule but the cool weather is delaying some early crops that are usually coming on strong by now. It’s been a pretty cool spring although that February heat wave was pretty bizarre. We continue to harvest cool loving crops like cilantro, lettuce, dandelions, dill, chard, kale, etc. The warm weather loving crops are longing for the warm days; the basil, tomato and summer squash are in a holding pattern until we get some heat. Winter squash plantings continue and we should have them all planted out by the end of May. Another thing that we need to get done by the end of May is to have all the citrus trees pruned back. Doing that early in the season enables the stimulated new growth to get plenty of strength and hardiness before the winter arrives. The lighter harvest load right now is giving us some time to take care of some of the peripheral chores, at least for the moment.
With reports of recent food related outbreaks of E.coli, we have had people asking us if it’s safe to eat romaine lettuce. The answer is yes, but it is a trust based decision for everyone. The best thing is if you actually know the farmer and can ask them questions. Ask yourself if you know if it’s locally produced and from a farmer who has good growing and harvesting practices? This question really needs to be addressed because with some practices, both in the field and in processing facilities, there are inherent high risks.
Whole heads are much safer than lettuce that is cut and packaged into plastic bags. Other questions to ask are how many hands have actually touched the product, do employees wash their hands, etc.? Some of the cut salad product is actually cut and cored in the field. This particular outbreak has been traced to product out of Yuma, Arizona and processed in a factory where product gets cut, washed and mixed with items from many different sources, then packaged in plastic bags which tend to become little incubators for food-borne pathogens.
Although these problems are not particular to large farming and processing operations, they do tend to make problems multiply and effect much greater numbers of people on the rare occasions that they do occur. Every day conveniences have created a multitude of problems from creating more packaging waste to actually increasing health risks. Knowing your farmer seems to be a great place to start.