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Brussels sprouts buck local ag trend

Vegetable has resurgence

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Posted: Thursday, August 2, 2012 1:23 pm | Updated: 1:26 pm, Thu Aug 2, 2012.

Hidden in the downturn outlined by the latest San Mateo County annual crop report is news of a resurgence of the oft-maligned Brussels sprout.

While floriculture production was down again last year, vegetables gave the local economy a boost — and much of that boost was due to one veggie in particular. Up in value by almost $1 million compared to 2010, the victorious Brussels sprouts are going through somewhat of a renaissance lately.

“Restaurants are serving them more on their menus and demand has increased in general, thus increasing the price,” said Fred Crowder, the county’s agricultural commissioner.

The fact that more growers are opting to sell their produce directly to consumers at area farmers markets instead of sending it for processing drives up the price even further, he said.

“We have seen an increase in the popularity of Brussels sprouts over the past few years. Even food channels are featuring this vegetable more and more,” said John Giusti, local Brussels sprouts grower.

Following the increased demand for fresh produce, Giusti has been marketing his farm’s Brussels sprouts in the fresh market more heavily, moving away from the frozen food industry.

According to the Annual Agricultural Crop Report for San Mateo County, total agricultural production topped $137 million — down 4.7 percent since 2010. But the news is not as bad as it looks.

The total has been on a steady decline since 2007. A large portion of this year’s drop stems from lower numbers reported by producers of potted floral and nursery plants grown in greenhouses. Some of that may be due to better reporting procedures, Crowder said.

“This year, the department made an extra effort to reach out to growers to report their numbers,” Crowder said. Growers who had not contributed to the report in previous years had submitted more conservative production values for 2011 compared to the average usually considered by the county’s Agricultural Department.

Another factor contributing to the $9 million decrease in the category was the low production value reported by Nurserymen’s Exchange, the county’s largest wholesaler of these plants. The Coastside employer has been in flux this past year after filing for bankruptcy in May 2011 and subsequently changing ownership.

Large retailers such as Costco and Walmart have also been challenging local growers with competitive prices, Crowder said.

With improvements in Nurserymen’s Exchange’s sales, as well as the industry successfully finding niches within the local market, next year’s production value should go up, Crowder said.

“I am optimistic about next year’s number,” he said.

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