The California drought this year has affected our farmers' productivity in a substantial way, with most of them cutting back on planting annual crops like tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and other row crops.
Those farmers with fruit and almond trees can survive another year without trees dying, but the trees will likely produce less quality fruit.
With cherry season here, and the rest of the stone fruits coming soon, farmers are worried that they won't be able to water adequately to provide good fruit. Cherries and other stone fruits are very sensitive to drought and need regular deep watering throughout the season.
Many farmers are leaving some fields fallow because they can't afford to water and maintain them. There are even farmers who are choosing to remove mature, productive almond trees because they don't have enough water to maintain them! Farmers are facing higher costs for irrigation.
Joe Stabile of Hillview Farm in Watsonville, who has been farming for 35 years, told us last week that this is the worst drought he has experienced thus far. Normally, Joe waters his apple trees five to six times a season, but this past season Joe had to water 13 times. This doubled his water bill for the year.
Ranchers are having problems feeding their animals. With no grass to feed cattle, chickens and sheep, feed has to be purchased from other sources.
Patty of Great Valley Poultry in Manteca says, "There is no grass for our pastured chickens to graze on. We still rotate pastured chickens around in the hope that the chickens will find something to eat. We're having to supplement our pastured hens with alfalfa, which is expensive."
So don't be surprised if you see the cost of produce and other products higher than last year. The costs of cultivation and production because of the water shortage are the reason.
Your California farmers are doing their best to sustain their farms and themselves during the drought, so talk to them about their situation and support them in their efforts to continue to bring you the best fruits and vegetables they can.
Grilled Chicken with Fresh Cherry Sauce
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups fresh Bing cherries, pitted
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the chicken in a plastic bag and cover with the balsamic vinegar. Place in the refrigerator and let marinade for 1 hour.
Remove the chicken from the plastic bag and put the breasts on a clean plate. Season with salt and pepper on both sides. Head outside to the grill!
Preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Lightly oil the grill grate to make sure the food doesn't stick. I like to pour some oil on a kitchen towel and use that to lightly brush on the oil. Cook the chicken about 8 minutes per side, or until cooked through. Place the cooked breasts on a clean plate and let rest while you make the sauce.
In a skillet, add the cherries, balsamic vinegar, red wine and pomegranate sauce. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce heat to medium and cook for about 3 minutes.
In a small bowl, mix together the cornstarch and the water. Pour the cornstarch mixture into the cherry sauce and stir until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, add in the butter, and season with salt and pepper
To serve, place the chicken on a large platter and spoon the silky cherry sauce over the breasts.
Farmers markets are open rain or shine.
Visit www.pcfma.com or call 800-949-FARM (800-949-3276).
The Time is Ripe is a monthly column written by Debra Morris, promotions coordinator for the Pacific Coast Farmers' Market Association. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.