Agriculture

Heat brings urgency to Valley farmers markets

Walk through the farmers markets, and you'll feel a sense of urgency.

Asparagus is practically gone, and green garlic's tenure is just about over. All too soon, the intolerable heat will force away blueberries, strawberries and delicate greens.

It's the turn of the season, when winter and spring crops quickly yield to those of summer.

"Don't close your eyes," says Eugene Etheridge of Etheridge Organics in Dinuba.

He's exaggerating, but only a little. For if you don't snag that fruit or vegetable this week, it might not be there the next.

Etheridge's stand at the Market on the Mall sold out of pink-fleshed Cara Cara oranges a week ago. His table at Fulton Mall captured the moment: Tangelos, a winter citrus, shared space with springtime Brooks cherries and Patterson apricots. A few types of early white peaches offered a hint of summer.

You'll see similar scenes at other farmers markets. At the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center farmers market in northeast Fresno, last week brought the end of Yeng Her's sugar-snap pea harvest. And Kingsburg farmers Gordon and Charlene Peterson warned customers of the impending loss of Tulare, Rainier and Brooks cherries. These varieties can't fight their fate. The weather's mood swings make it all the more difficult to predict a crop's availability. Farmers must bend to nature's will instead of trying to extend the harvest.

"When you force it, something, somewhere pays the price for it," says Lou Pasquale, who sells European specialty crops from the Vineyard farmers' market at Shaw and Blackstone avenues.

Like lettuce, for example. "If lettuce gets too stressed," he says, "it turns bitter."

The turn of the season means new menus for chefs who rely on the markets. Vatche Moukhtarian pushed away thoughts of short ribs and pan-seared polenta as he bought strawberries and mint at the Vineyard farmers' market.

"We're looking at lighter dishes," says Moukhtarian, owner of Cracked Pepper Bistro at Fresno Street and Shaw Avenue. "It's changing."

With the urge to grab before it's gone, you may seize too much of the moment's bounty.

But a stuffed refrigerator need not mean buyer's remorse. Consult the cookbooks of the like-minded, and you might be inspired to pair the beets of winter with the apricots of spring. You could stir pureed Valencia oranges (summer's substitution for winter's navel oranges) into an almond cake. Or blend strawberries into a cheesecake-flavored smoothie.

Whatever you do, don't hesitate. This is one time of year when it pays to be greedy.

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