It turns out the deep freeze which hit the West may not have done much damage to California's $2 billion fresh citrus crop but to the nation's "salad bowl." Prices are rising.
"The price has more than doubled on our spinach," said Madelyn Alfano, who runs a chain of restaurants in Los Angeles called Maria's Italian Kitchen. "We're not selling asparagus. It's like $75 a case, that's more than $6 a pound, so that's off our menu completely."
Nearly all of the fresh lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes and other winter vegetables grown in the U.S. come from Southern California and Arizona, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture said prices have jumped considerably.
Romaine lettuce prices have nearly tripled in a year to as much as $32 for a carton of 24 heads of lettuce. Broccoli prices are up 288 percent to $33 a carton, and spinach prices are up 150 percent to as much as $25 a carton.
"This has been a pretty tough situation," said Jeff Percy, vice president of production for Ocean Mist Farms in Coachella, Calif.
He oversees the production of all of the vegetables seeing price increases. "Our business is like Wall Street...supply and demand, so obviously we have some short supplies."
Percy said the cold snap followed the warmest December he's ever seen, and that heat created such a quick bumper crop that many vegetables were left unpicked in the field due to falling prices. "I've been a farmer for 25 years, and I've never seen the perfect storm of weather that I've seen this year."
According to Percy, there could be "critical" shortages of some vegetables over the next month before the situation returns to normal, and what product does make it to grocery stores won't look as perfect as Americans are used to.
He held up an artichoke which carried a label saying "frost kissed." It's outer skin was brown and starting to peel, like a sunburn. "It may look funny on the outside," the farmer said, "but it's still good on the inside."
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