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IN SEASON

Watermelon Miseries

July 01, 1998|RUSS PARSONS

Watermelons may be the patriotic dessert of choice for Fourth of July, but odds are that the one that winds up on your picnic table this Saturday was imported--or at least from out of state.

Most years, both the Imperial Valley and Westside San Joaquin Valley watermelon harvests are in full gear around now. But this year, the Imperial Valley is struggling (30% less than last year's shipments to date) and the San Joaquin Valley is at a virtual standstill (less than 5% of last year's shipments to date). The San Joaquin harvest is three to four weeks behind its usual starting date.

Even Arizona, which is hotter and drier than the Imperial Valley, is hurting. The harvest there is just a little more than half as much as this time last year.

Does this mean you'll have to do without? Certainly not, though it means watermelons will be a bit more dear this year. Wholesale prices in Los Angeles are running 18 to 20 cents per pound--about a third more than last year.

The slack is being taken up by a variety of sources, both domestic and foreign. While our weather has been cool and moist, the Southeast has been hot and dry. Watermelon shipments from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas are all far ahead of last year.

International imports--which usually account for more than 40% of the melons sold in this country at this time of year--are up as well. That's despite the fact that Mexico--by far the biggest single source of watermelons in America--is slumping slightly, hurt by the same weather we've been having.

On the other hand, someone is smiling in Costa Rica. American sales of watermelons from that tiny country are almost 20 times last year's numbers. In fact, this year Costa Rica has produced twice the watermelons Arizona and the San Joaquin Valley have.

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Farmer's Market Report

There was an odd assortment of old and new at the Wednesday farmer's market located at what might have been the "piazza" in old-town Tustin.

Fallbrook's Fred Campbell was there with the end of the season's blood orange, tangerine and lime crops, and the Scrimshaw Brothers had butternut winter squash out of storage.

But other farmers, including Thermal's Yanez Ranch, Fallbrook's Coyote Organic and Carlsbad's Leslie Farms and Valdivia Farms, had dazzling assortments of summer vegetables, including squash (sunburst, zucchini, gray zucchini and crookneck, as well as blossoms), tomatoes (red and yellow cherries, Israeli, Japanese and Romas) and green beans (yellow, purple, Blue Lake and haricots verts). In addition, you could find eggplant, cucumbers, sweet and hot peppers, grapes, berries, melons and corn.

For tree fruit, the Central Valley's Windham Farms, Verni Farms and Rosendahl Farms had a wide variety, with Windham's terrific little "Sugar Lady" white peaches being among the best.

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