Thursday, February 03, 2005

Only green-striped, pink-flesh lemons for me

Variety is the spice of life. And quite literally, for a green zebra versus a brandywine tomato, the subtle taste difference (or not so subtle, depending on who you ask) is in essence owed to natural flavors that no spice cabinet can reproduce. A green zebra (or a yellow pear or a Matt's wild cherry or...) is a no-assembly-required treat that stands on its own flavor merits in a world filled with deli-ready Redâ„¢ tomatoes.

Small family farms and local knowledge have allowed for the survival of varieties like green zebras amidst the monocultural status quo. And perhaps these heirloom varieties, inherently not mass-market and too delicate/inefficient to grow on big faraway farms, will now return the favor and help save the family farm. In September 2004, the NYTimes featured a story about increasing demand for garlic such that hundreds of different flavors of garlic were being grown on farms in upstate New York. Yesterday in the paper David Karp explored the public and growers going gaga for off-beat lemon varieties:
"When I started here in 1995, growers only wanted to produce large quantities of uniform lemons," said Tracy L. Kahn, curator of the Citrus Variety Collection at the University of California, Riverside. "Now the specialty market is much more important, and people are talking about flavor and unusual characteristics."
Yet not all of the citrus growers experimenting with offbeat lemons are small farmers, and the article even quotes an ag guy extolling the virtues of pre-ripe lemons, which are tough enough for long-distance travel and can later be artificially ripened with ethylene gas. So, do heirloom and variety foretell only more of the same, or do they hold hope for keeping small farms financially afloat?

4 Comments:

Blogger Jennifer Maiser said...

Great blog! I will be curious to continue to read your experience with local food in the Northeast, as I have often been accused of only being able to buy locally and seasonally due to the stellar year-round growing environment in Northern California.

Jen
Life Begins @ Thirty

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