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August 13, 2014

When you go to the grocery store, you might have noticed that all of the produce looks exactly the same. Tomatoes, for example, are all exactly the same shade of red and an incredibly similar size. Carrots, too, are all the same width and length. It’s a remarkable lesson in how we all love uniformity.

But do vegetables actually grow like that? No way! In reality, vegetables grow in all shapes and sizes. They come big and small. Some ripen earlier than others while some straggle on later. So how do the grocery stores do it? They pass the costs onto the farmers, of course.

Grocery stores will only take a certain shape and size of vegetable. No exceptions. Since farmers don’t all grow “number ones”, where does the rest go? It depends on the size of the farm. If you’re a giant agribusiness, you have all sorts of outlets for “number twos”. They can be sent to your food processing company, or they get sent to your cannery division, or maybe they get mushed into your baby food conglomerate or get passed along to your juice business. Every vegetable goes somewhere and it’s one way that big corporations can eke out a profit from farming.

If you’re a small farmer, on the other hand, they go to the compost pile. It’s a total loss (we seed it and plant it and water it and weed it all the same) and the farm bears that expense. On top of that, often small farmers (usually organic ones) will grow varieties that the big grocery companies shun. You see, the big companies want produce that can be shipped. They grow it in the desert, pick it early so the skins stay hard, truck it to the warehouse, truck it to another warehouse, then another, then to the store. Your tomato has to stand up to all of those bumps and jumps. Taste and nutrition are hardly considerations. Small farmers choose for flavor or history or to save rare seed or just because a customer asked us to. These types of vegetables don’t last as long and the amount of “number ones” is always less.

So when you open your box, not everything will look like it does at the grocery store. That’s a good thing. It means that your farmers are looking out for you. It means that your farmers are growing for flavor. It means that crops are picked when they are supposed to be – at their peak.

The whole crew at Montalbano Farms hopes that you have a wonderful week!