Young love: the produce of spring

Go ahead, take a bite. Travis Lusk in the produce department of the Seward Co-op.

Photo by Jeremy Stratton

Green garlic, spring crops and the weather

Despite a want for rain in our neck of the woods and a drastic drought farther off in California, some farmers are producing great spring crops right now: asparagus, ramps, pea shoots and several varieties of radishes. We’re just starting to see incredibly perky lettuce and spring mix, and next week (the second week of June), it will be baby bok choy, bunch spinach and, soon after that, peas and strawberries.

Some growers in western Wisconsin have reported ideal spring conditions — handsome for harvesting morel mushrooms and one under-appreciated spring crop: young (or green) garlic.

Garlic is an essential flavor and harbors untold medicinal virtues. From providing immune system support to cardiovascular strength, garlic is a potent ingredient for healthy living.

Garlic is most useful raw or lightly cooked, and green garlic provides a unique opportunity. Appearing like a large scallion or green onion, it’s harvested before the bulbs have matured. Because it’s immature and uncured, green garlic retains a mild, bitterless flavor that sweetens when cooked. The entire plant can be used, from bulb to greenery.

Simplicity is the best practice with any spring produce item. To enjoy the seasonal zing, green garlic can be used like scallions or green onions in soups, stir-fry, dips or down-home scrambled eggs. Gently sauté it in butter or oil and use it anywhere you’d like to savor the sweetest shot of spring garlic love.

It’s season is short-lived however — like the weather, it isn’t a permanent condition.

Speaking of the weather…

Shoppers are often aware of shelf prices but are not always privy to the most important factor in crop production: the weather.

Every season, there are weather challenges affecting availability, quality and price. Whether locally grown, domestic or imported, all produce is beholden to the whims of the weather.

This spring, California experienced drastic drought and was unable to purchase water from neighboring states. In all likelihood, the initial reports hint of a short melon season, and commodities like watermelon and cantaloupe could see higher prices and varying degrees of quality.

Fresh produce is perhaps the only industry where price goes up when quality goes down. Supply and demand are visible operatives in the produce department. When supply is abundant, prices reflect the market; likewise, when supply is low (especially for items typically “in season”) retail prices jump.

In our neighborhood (particularly central Minnesota) there’s also a want for rain. While we haven’t seen drastic implications, we can’t control the weather, and it’s important for shoppers to be aware of the link between climate, food production and the factors that determine retail prices.

— Travis Lusk is a Seward resident and produce manager at the Seward Co-op.

last revised: June 5, 2009