California artichokes back in peak production

04/19/2013 02:25:00 PM
Mike Hornick

CASTROVILLE, Calif. — As peak production of artichokes began in California, early signs suggested better-than-average volumes could be available for retail shelves.

“Quality is the best it’s been in several years and supplies are excellent,” Dale Huss, vice president of artichoke production at Castroville-based Ocean Mist Farms, said April 4. “We’re excited about the possibilities, but when you’re a grower you don’t want to jinx it.”

Castroville artichokes peak in April and May. Baby sizes start hitting their stride by late April.

This year’s crop benefited from moderate March temperatures.

“Growing conditions have been ideal,” Huss said. “Artichokes are a lot like us. They don’t like it too hot and they don’t like it too cool. It’s been cool, which has kept the crop growing slowly, and they get bigger when they’re growing slow.”

Growers saw less rain than they wanted, but were able to irrigate the crop.

Ocean Mist, one of a number of companies that produce artichokes in the Salinas Valley region, grows its perennials there year round. In winter, the grower-shipper supports that volume with a deal in Coachella Valley. As in past years, the desert proved vital.

“We had a lot of frost kiss product coming out of Castroville, but the desert growing region was pretty much clean from Feb. 1 on,” Huss said. For artichokes, Coachella production finished the last week of March.

On the marketing side, Ocean Mist began its second year of offering direct sale of a case of the vegetable to the more than 37,000 members of its Artichokes Aficionados online club. They also get weekly e-mails with local retail ads featuring discounts.

The reach of that club and the strength of artichoke demand in northern California were underscored in April when the vegetable won an online vote for top California foods, organized by San Francisco’s KGO radio. Artichokes outpolled avocados and several other foods. Ultimately, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed artichokes the state vegetable and avocados the state fruit.

In that region, Ocean Mist was running radio ads and working with various retailers on display contests and promotions.

In New York, the company scheduled chef demonstrations of artichoke menu ideas April 22 at Baldor Specialty Foods’ event, “The Bite.” Ocean Mist was on a list of attractions with Sunkist Growers, Driscoll’s and others.



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