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The Story of Our Citrus

Supporting the local food economy is why we’re here, and we know it’s why so many of our members joined us! There’s nothing like fresh produce grown in your community, brought to you by people you know. There’s an unparalleled pleasure to be had from cooking a meal from colorful locally-grown ingredients. Life is good and the bounty seems like it’ll never end.

But then the cold hits, and the more rugged stuff rolls in – root veggies, tubers, hardy greens, all the cold season fare. But these crops don’t have the same charm as summer and fall fare, and eventually, even the most seasoned locavore wants more than what local lands and hands can provide. In the winter, we’ve had members cancel their subscriptions due to the loss in produce variety, and others who don’t understand why exotic produce and pantry items find their way into our winter bags.

For 4P Foods, surviving and thriving as a company depends on regional sourcing and relationships with remote producers. We will always remain transparent about where our food comes from and who has produced it, and we will make it easy to trace the origins and tell the story of every item we carry. Even when our reach extends beyond our local and regional partners, 4P Foods is committed to supporting small-scale family farms that share our values. Their aims – to eat well, be well, and do well with food – are our aims, regardless of where they live.

Our partnership with non-profit Local Food Hub is a sourcing success story. Before transferring the distribution operations to 4P Foods in 2019, Local Food Hub exclusively sourced from VA growers and producers. Now, with the infrastructure, resources, and logistical capabilities of 4P, our wholesale hub has bee able to add more out-of-state producers to the availability lists. This way, members can enjoy a greater variety throughout the year, and local partners still have a market for their late-season crops, like apples and root vegetables. Having a bit more variety means our customers can hit the minimum orders, allowing them to continue to buy from our local farms right here in Virginia all year round. This evolution from exclusively local, to strategically and seasonally regional means we can still support local food by supporting producers outside our region. It’s an evolution in food systems partnerships that can cause a revolution in how equitable food systems are built. We’re excited and grateful to be a part of it with so many like-minded producers and partners.

Fruitful Endeavors

So what does all of this have to do with the title? Here it is – the story of our citrus! Because nobody has time for home canning and preserving these days, the end of our growing season means the end of all things sweet and brightly-colored. Fruits simply don’t grow well in the Mid-Atlantic region during the winter months. But thanks to our connections, our members can support sustainable growers within our network and enjoy citrus and tropical fruits in the dead of winter. Diversity in the diet is always good, and let’s face it, foodies – there’s only so many ways you can cook a radish.

At 4P Foods, we have historically sought to source our citrus exclusively from the eastern seaboard, but several factors have led us to expand our network to Texas, California, and South Carolina. Citrus agriculture comes with unique challenges that affect everyone in the supply chain.

HLB (Citrus Greening)

Citrus agriculture had a shaky start in the United States, and cold winters remain a major setback to production. But now the industry faces a much graver threat – a disease called Huanglongbing (HLB), or citrus greening. Harmless to humans but incurable and fatal to citrus trees, it’s spread by bacteria in the tiny Asian citrus psyllid insect and is thought to have been brought from China through imported fruit.

HLB can kill any kind of commercial citrus tree in just five years. Infected trees produce small, green, misshapen, and bitter fruits that drop early, which renders the trees commercially worthless. In Florida, famous for its oranges, the majority of all citrus-bearing lands are infected, making it impossible for us to continue sourcing from the Orange State. HLB has also been detected in many other states, further complicating procurement.

Providing our members with organic citrus has become more important than ever. Citrus is already notoriously highly-sprayed. But due to HLB, some conventional citrus growers are turning to the massive application of EPA-approved antibiotics in a desperate effort to save their groves. However, spraying at this scale carries a risk of causing antibiotic resistance in the bacteria that cause HLB and the insects that spread it. Antibiotic use also raises concerns to human, animal, and environmental health.

4P Foods has worked hard to build relationships with small family growers who are organic or Certified Organic, who control HLB with with strict management techniques, so there is no risk of pesticide residue or other issues due to spraying.

To make a long story short, finding sustainable fruit for our members’ winter Produce Bags is tough enough, and sourcing citrus is not straightforward. Growing citrus is the hardest part of the equation! In the light of these challenges, we make careful decisions regarding our citrus grower partnerships. We can’t always get our citrus from the east coast, and it’s clear that citrus growers nationwide are in need of our support (and yours!). Consumers want to enjoy the product, growers want to make a living, and companies like 4P Foods want to support them both while also keeping our own survival in mind. Therefore, we’ve widened our sourcing scope to include more regional and remote farmer partners.

Our Citrus Farmer Partners

Triple J Organics – Mission, TX

Jesse Lozano, his father Jesus Lozano, father-in-law Jose Macias (the Triple J’s!) and their family own and operate Triple J Organics in the Rio Grande Valley. They’re Certified Organic and they use all-natural agricultural methods to produce exceptional oranges and grapefruit uniquely flavored by Texan terroir. By offering their citrus in our Produce Bags, we’re helping Triple J Organics reach new markets and people who truly appreciate the fruits of their labor.

Shiraz Ranch – Newman, CA

Shiraz Ranch in the San Joaquin Valley has the perfect climate for growing a wide variety of citrus, including satsumas, grapefruit, lemon, and navel oranges. It was founded in 2002 by four partners who immigrated from Iran over 30 years ago. Engineers and agricultural scientists by trade, they’re passionate about the art of farming.

Shiraz Ranch has the largest satsuma orchard in CA (185 acres!), and due to geographical factors, its fruit doesn’t get cross-pollinated, stays seedless, and maintains very high quality. We featured their tasty satsumas in our holiday bag!

South Texas Organics

Becoming the biggest grower of organic citrus and vegetables in Texas was a massive undertaking for Dennis Holbrook, who purchased the family citrus business from his father in 1977. He chose to convert the conventional farm into an organic farm, which took many years of dedicated soil restoration and studying natural growing methods.

Dennis currently grows Rio Star Texas grapefruit, oranges, and Meyer lemons. Find his Certified Organic citrus in your 4P Produce Bag, including Hamlin Oranges and grapefruits.

Sourcing South Carolina Citrus

Coastal SC land imparts unique flavors and characteristics that we’re excited to experience in our upcoming citrus offerings. Interestingly, the Charleston area was one of the epicenters of citrus production in the United States. In the 1900s, California and Florida agriculture barely existed, and food explorers brought seeds, cuttings, and more back from their travels – the first spark of a citrus industry in the states. But it was a difficult journey, as colder winters than today’s were tough on citrus trees and their growers.

Today, SC citrus growers are leading Lowcountry agricultural revitalization due to mild recent winters and a bumper crop of high-quality fruit. But citrus farming is still a gamble, since freezes and snowfall result in poor yields the following year. HLB and fruit drop – which occurs when trees are overly stressed early in the season – are constant concerns. Citrus fruit is a valuable but risky commodity, and growers work hard to ensure the success of their harvest and bring their food to our tables.

Our Partnership with GrowFood Carolina

4P Foods and Local Food Hub are very excited to work with GrowFood Carolina (GFC). The non-profit is South Carolina’s first local food hub and was founded in 2011 by the sustainable agriculture department of the Coastal Conservation League. According to general manager Anthony Mirisciotta, GFC is a direct response to the rapid loss of farmland to development in coastal South Carolina, its Sea Islands, and the Lowcountry region.

Based in Charleston, GFC purchases, markets, and distributes farm goods and provides support to farmers from the ground up. This includes providing tools, education, and resources that current and prospective farmers need to succeed and be sustainable. GFC helps to conserve land and keep farmers on their land, who are often growing produce in their backyards or small-acreage plots.

Our GFC Farmer Partners

4P Foods will be sourcing citrus from 3 new farmer partners through GFC: Brickyard Point Farms, Dogwood Farms, and Orange Grove Plantation.

Brickyard Point Farms is located on Lady’s Island, about an hour or so south of Charleston. Owner Jim is retired and served in the military. He and his brother inherited the land, which is now indefinitely preserved as farmland sits on a natural point overlooking the marshlands of the Lowcountry.

Jim still tends the pecan trees his father planted decades ago, and his land produces amazing fruit. Brickyard Point uses solar power and aims to go off-grid within the next few years.

Dogwood Citrus Farms is located on Johns Island, 15 minutes from Charleston. It’s run by a retired married couple, and they grow a handful of citrus trees and several varieties of pepper plants right in their backyard!

Historic estate Orange Grove Plantation in St. Helena, SC used to be a vegetable farm and still produces tomatoes seasonally. There are currently multiple citrus varieties growing in Orange Grove including Meyer lemons, oranges, grapefruits and satsumas.

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Upcoming Citrus Fruits

Now that you know the stories of the growers, let’s meet some of the beautiful citrus fruits you’ll find in your upcoming bags!

Meyer lemons are sweet, flavorful, and aromatic. They’re perfect for cooking and baking due to higher sugar and lower acid content than other lemons. They also have a thinner skin and a more floral flavor.

Satsumas are an adorably small, very sweet mandarin orange-like fruit. Owari is the main variety you’ll encounter, and they’re portable and easy to peel – a perfect snack or recipe addition.

There’s also pink grapefruit, which has a light-colored rind because the South Carolina climate cannot produce the type of color seen in fruits from warmer states. But rest assured that these grapefruits are incredibly juicy and filled with fiber and vitamin C.

But perhaps the most intriguing newcomer is the rangpur lime, which is not an actual lime but a lemon, mandarin, and kumquat cross-hybrid beloved by chefs, bartenders, and foodies alike. The idea of a hybrid fruit may seem odd, but all the citrus we eat today are natural hybrids descended from just three original fruits!

The Big Picture

Citrus in your Produce Bag will brighten your day, make our winter easier, and help out our farmer friends who are braving the elements and fighting to save their trees from destruction by an invisible adversary.

Our members benefit from the increased variety and nutrition in the dead of winter, months before the first berry or tomato. Our farmer partners benefit from an expanded market for their products and access to our resources, and from support when their livelihoods are threatened. 4P Foods benefits from the business during a financially challenging time of year, and from the relationships and connections we’re all creating together to fix our broken food system.

The citrus, tropical, and specialty produce we offer is completely in line with our mission to provide food that is sustainable, ethical, healthy, just, and fair for everyone involved – from the grower to the eater. We hope that our members warmly welcome the sight of southern citrus in their 4P bags, especially in the wintertime. Our regional produce isn’t from parts unknown – it comes from families, from backyards, cherished plots, and protected lands, and from a place of love and commitment to good food for everyone, all year long.

Further Reading

“But Citrus isn’t Local!?” – A Word from Our Founder

Beyond Local

Good Food Knows No Boundaries

The Geography of Good Food

What’s In the Winter Bag?

Thoughts on Fair Trade Tropical Produce

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