Produce Primer

04/19/2017

Ever wonder how the fresh produce you buy in the grocery store gets there?  Yeah, I’d never thought about it either until I started working at Smith’s Farm.  I just went to the store, list in hand (or not) ready to check things off and put them in the cart.  Now I do remember thinking, “jeez cauliflower seems expensive this week” or conversely, “wow 2 for one broccoli… awesome!”  but I didn’t even wonder what caused the fluctuations.

 I have found the produce industry intensely interesting as I learn more about it (note that is sincerity, not sarcasm). I mean really, shouldn’t we know where our food comes from and how it got there???

 The Basics:

 In each area of the US and the world for that matter, weather changes in a somewhat predictable way with the seasons.  Specifically, different regions of the US have varied weather patterns, meaning rain and temperatures: summer in Florida is hot, hot, hot while summer in Maine is beautiful and balmy.  Now factor in that each fruit or vegetable has a certain tolerance for temperature and moisture, meaning they can only grow in certain areas during certain times of the year. 

 So let’s make it simple, take broccoli for example:  broccoli can typically grow in Maine from July –November.  For those months we ship fresh Maine broccoli like crazy to your local grocery store or to their area warehouses by truck.  What do we do the rest of the year? Well, during the mild winter months in Florida, we can grow broccoli down south from January – early/mid April.  Then in the few months in between those seasons we have growers out in California or Mexico to keep fresh supply in stores.

 Now where it really starts to get interesting for me is how weather affects all of this… remember hurricane Matthew that came right up Florida’s east coast last year?  All the rain and wind ruined some of our crops, but not all.  We had different areas in different stages of growth and some of the smaller plants just couldn’t make it.  Did you follow all the rain in California this year?  Many growers couldn’t plant for over a week during prime planting season because of the heavy downpours.  Both of these incidents create a gap in supply later during harvest time.  And you guessed it… decreased supply, increased demand = increased prices.

 There are many more factors that come into play, but these are a few of the most basic principles which are constantly changing!