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Sticker Shock

May 06, 1993|RUSS PARSONS

A visit to the vegetable department these days is likely to send you into sticker shock. A quick tour around a representative neighborhood supermarket this weekend showed lettuce prices from $1.29 to $1.59 a head; small celery at 99 cents a bunch; cucumbers at 69 cents each (a per-pound price of more than $1); green beans $1.99 a pound; zucchini 99 cents a pound; and asparagus $1.99 a pound. Green bell peppers were $1.99 a pound. Even onions are sky-high--brown onions are 69 cents and whites and reds 89 cents a pound.

The bargains were few. Cabbage was cheap--39 cents a pound--but when cut, it showed widely spaced ribs and thin leaves that tell you the season is just about over. Artichokes were a relatively good buy--59 cents each--but hardly the kind of steal you'd expect at the peak of the season.

What's going on here? For one thing, the recent cool weather has slowed harvest of some crops. And in some cases, vegetables are between harvests--winding up picking in some areas, but not yet at full capacity in others. Mainly, though, we're still paying the price for a winter of heavy weather.

Here are some specific examples:

* The asparagus harvest going on around Stockton and in the Salinas Valley has been slowed by cool weather, and the dip in prices that usually comes when Washington's southern YakimaValley begins picking is still a couple of weeks away.

* Onions are in short supply as the last of last year's storage onions are being used up getting ready for the harvest to move into full swing in Texas and the Imperial Valley.

* Lettuces are suffering because of supply shortages brought about by growing gaps. Three months ago, when fields were knee-deep in muck, it was difficult for growers to plant the lettuces we should be eating now. That should be easing up as Salinas opens in the next week or two, but the USDA forecasts have overall lettuce production down 7% this year, so lettuce is unlikely to be on special any time soon.

* Green beans, squash, tomatoes and cucumbers are high because of growing gaps caused by the late winter "super storm" that swept through the North Florida growing fields.

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