Dick Peixoto, owner of Lakeside Organic Gardens, checks out the broccoli crop. ( Courtesy Lakeside Organic Gardens )

Celery is a rising star among organic produce as consumer appetites increase for the product segment.

Oxnard, Calif.-based Boskovich Farms has been growing organic celery for about six to seven years, and broccoli for about three years.

But celery leads, as demand has been “extremely good,” said Darrell Beyer, Boskovich’s organic sales manager.

“It’s something people buy every day, and a lot of people are juicing celery now,” Beyer said. “We grow more of it and more of it, and people buy it.”

In Watsonville, Calif., broccoli, celery and cauliflower are the top selling items among the spring vegetables offered by Lakeside Organic Gardens, said Marliese Ward, creative marketing manager. 

“Demand is always there, and it’s on the rise,” Ward said. “With juicing coming along, we move a lot of romaine and celery.”

Other trends, such as meal kits, are also pushing up demand for Lakeside’s celery root, Romanesco broccoli/cauliflower, and watermelon radishes — items that used to be novelties. Another factor is millennials interested in knowing where their produce is growing and how it’s being grown, she said.

Rainy weather, however, is presenting some hardships this season.

“With all the rain, it’s so hard to get equipment into the ground,” Ward said. 

Production volumes may be on track with last year, but it’s too early to tell, she said.

Challenging winter weather in Yuma, Ariz., where Salinas, Calif.-based The Nunes Co. Inc. grows organic items over winter, has caused a lot of issues with crops this year, said Doug Clausen, sales manager. That, in turn, is creating high demand for the organic produce.

Salinas-based D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California grows organic romaine hearts and broccoli rabe among its numerous crops, said Claudia Pizarro-Villalobos, marketing and culinary manager. 

In Monterey County, where Salinas is located, organic acreage, its value and the numbers of growers are increasing.

In 2017, organic production was about 41,000 acres, up from 33,000 acres the previous year, while organic crops rose in value to more than $390 million from $365 million the previous year, according to the county’s 2017 crop report, its most recent one.

Organic production is on the rise mainly due to consumer preference, but the lack of appropriate pesticides has made growing it more challenging for some vegetables, said Henry Gonzales, Monterey County’s agricultural commissioner.

To help control one disease, the celery mosaic virus, the county and state mandate a host-free period in December, which prohibits growers from growing celery during that month to remove it as a host plant from aphids, which transmit the disease, Gonzales said.

“When there is no celery for aphids to feed on, it diminishes the amount of virus in the environment, and they are able to grow celery successfully for the rest of the year,” Gonzales said.

Ocean Mist Farms in Castroville, Calif., has expanded its organic line to include Brussels sprouts and green onions, while also adding washed and ready-to-eat Brussels sprouts to its convenience line, the company announced in November. 

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