And then there they were: big green, organic, California-grown mangoes piled up at Whole Foods. I couldn’t believe it.
It’s the Keitt (pronounced “kit”) mango, and it’s apparently not all that new. David Karp, a farmers market writer worth following, wrote about Keitt mangoes for the Los Angeles Times in 2010, when they were coming into the Santa Monica Farmers Market.
When he wrote, there were some 300 acres of mango orchards in the Coachella desert of Southern California, near the Salton Sea. Keitt mangoes are also grown, along with many other varieties, in Florida. It seems they’ve been grown commercially in California for several years at least.
I talked with Steve Brugge, a produce specialist at Whole Foods Campbell, and he said the short season, which runs for only a month or two and peaks in August and September, has unfortunately already come to a close.
“They aren’t producing that much so it’s been small batches. But the harvests are getting bigger and bigger,” Brugge said, predicting that “the harvest will probably be larger next year.”
We cut one up, and we have another ripening because it was a bit firm and green. The first one was amazing! It was a rich flavor, very sweet, complex and not tart at all because we let it ripen well. One of the best mangoes I’ve ever had. It’s also nice that it’s not stringy, so you don’t get the fibers in your teeth.
Keitt makes tropical local
When I was in South America in 2009, I ate as many mangoes as I could. Colombian street vendors sell juices and liquados made from more tropical fruits than I could possibly remember—mangoes, passion fruit, nispero, lulo, guanábana, guava, banana and more.
When I came back to California, I realized that we have at our doorsteps the fruit bowl of the United States. We grow berries, nuts, fruits and vegetables like few other places on earth. So I resolved to focus on the amazing bounty that California’s farms provide.
That also meant forgoing bananas, a staple of the American breakfast that requires tons of fuel to haul up from Latin America, not to mention the massive amounts of pesticides and poor worker conditions their harvest entails.
I wouldn’t say I’m a locavore per se, because I’m not so sure I’d be as gung-ho about this if I lived anywhere but California. It’s just that there are so many perks to buying local fruits and vegetables: they’re fresher, tastier, and often grown and shipped with fewer chemicals.
Plus, I like to support my local farmers, because they support their communities. And then there’s the joy of splurging on my favorite fruits when their season arrives, when the prices are low and I can drown myself in apples, persimmons, peaches and, now, mangoes.
In case you worry about this, buying from US farmers doesn’t really hurt farmers in the developing world. What I learned in my economics studies and spending time in Latin America is that exporting mangoes, bananas and other products does little to benefit the workers and campesinos of Latin America. Their agricultural systems, as in the US, are usually geared to help big corporations more than the poor who work for them.
On the other hand, California farmers’ money often stays here in California, especially if the farms are small or mid-sized. And for those products I do buy from abroad, like chocolate and coffee, there are fair trade options.