While production and sales of easy-to peel Satsuma oranges is winding down, the organic citrus season is just getting exciting. This season should have consumers in an organic citrus frenzy, with producers like Deer Creek Heights Ranch, Homegrown Organic Farms, Sundance Organics, and Rainbow Valley Orchards offering an assortment of organic citrus products offering extraordinary flavor
California’s plethora of passionate organic citrus farmers, many with older orchards, are pushing variety and flavor over volume and homogeneity, driven by today’s educated consumer. “The consumer is getting more and more sophisticated daily and the organic consumer even more so,” said Craig Morris, citrus category director for Homegrown Organic Farms in Porterville, CA. He points to social media and digital technology as key components to customer sophistication in terms of varietals and flavor educators.
Organically Grown Company, has been exclusively marketing the Buck Brand nationally for a number of years and continues to see substantial growth in the citrus category, particularly with specialty and niche items. The Buck Brand brims with 275 acres of organic specialties and over 80 different varietals. The company’s Heirloom navel oranges, about to peak, are from orchards planted before the 1920s, and said to be from the original Washington navel tree orchards planted in the early 1900s in Riverside, CA. These heirloom navels have an extraordinarily sharpened flavor due to a better balance of sugar and acid, according to Lyle Babcock, co-founder and farmer of Deer Creek Heights Ranch and the Buck Brand in Porterville, CA
One of the more exciting, higher volume offerings from the Buck Brand right now is the TDE, a triple cross tangerine; The variety consists of part Temple Orange or a Tangor (which is actually half orange and half Royal Mandarin), part Dancy Tangerine and part Party Encore Tangerine.
The Shasta Gold, is one of the main varietals to come out of this cross, is a consumer favorite and sweet piece of fruit. According to Tom Lively of Organically Grown Company, “it’s a large mandarin that eats rich, sweet and tangy and near seedless.” Other notable Buck Brand items include Nova tangerines, Sanguinelli blood oranges, Mango oranges (Valencia), Melogold grapefruit or any one of the niche items such as finger limes, Meiwa kumquats, sweet limes, Thai pomelos, Buddha Hand and African Shaddock pomelos.
One of the nations’ largest organic citrus producers is renowned Homegrown Organic Farms (HGO) headquartered in Porterville, California. Representing over 150 growers on 4000-plus acres, HGO Farms grows citrus throughout growing regions in California and parts of Mexico. A large scale citrus producers, HGO is recognized for its long navel program that extends later than most and attracts retailers throughout North America. However, it’s HGO’s pink flesh Cara Cara program that buyers tout as one of the best in the business, delivering excellent, long-season, consistent volumes as well as superior quality and a sweet, robust flavor. A few other core items from HGO Farms, with promotable volumes heading into February are: Minneola’s, Gold Nugget tangerines, lemons, Meyer lemons, grapefruit, pomelos and blood oranges.
Several other notable organic growers are currently offering citrus programs touted for their diversity and taste. Sundance Organics, producing in North county San Diego around the Valley Center area is coming on strong with Minneola’s, lemons, Meyer lemons and navels. A few highlights are their Golden Nuggets----a sweet, near seedless, juicy tangerine with a pebbly rind that’s fairly easy to peel.
Rainbow Valley Orchards, right next door in Fallbrook, California, produces a flavorful crop of late navels and grapefruit. Fallbrook also has a unique microclimate, in that it doesn’t get too hot; the fruit matures slower and has time to develop a deeper, more complex flavor. They also have the usual rundown of lemons, limes, cara cara oranges, blood oranges and a few fun specialty items like pink variegated limes, Buddha Hand and kumquats.
California isn’t the only place bursting with organic citrus; the smaller and rapidly expanding Mexican organic citrus industry is gaining momentum, with quality and flavor to match. Covilli Brand Organics, headquartered in Nogales, AZ, will have a small and rare organic key lime program in February. They also offer some smaller core item programs for navels, Valencia’s, mandarins and red and white grapefruit. Patagonia Orchards, also headquartered in Nogales, is in full swing with a relatively new Meyer lemon program as well as other organic citrus staples like navels, Valencia’s, lemons and limes.