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Company finds success with customer-driven produce

Find out why big things are coming in small packages for some melon growers in Fresno County.



As the farm-to-fork concept has grown farmers are accustomed to hearing from chefs about what they like and what will make a great dish. For example, the Foreign Cinema Restaurant in San Francisco has garnered local, national and international acclaim as a quintessentially San Francisco dining experience, all thanks to its flair for keeping the menu local and fresh. A list of seasonally-inspired fare is what restaurant legends are made of but--as any good chef will tell you--they are nothing without their ingredients. At the top of menus these days is watermelon. The picnic staple is moving more and more into white tablecloth eateries as people appreciate it as an important meal component, not just a colorful garnish.

While the traditional large, seeded varieties are still the standard, there is evidence that chefs and consumers are beginning to want something different.

In a world of super-sized menus, some fruit is actually shrinking--which is apparent at Hammond Ranch, managed by Mike Stern, in Fresno County. Small, round watermelons, about the size of cantaloupes, are being bred to match the declining size of the average American household and the consumers' taste for something new.

The mini-watermelons that thrive at Mike Stern's farm are part of a resurgence in the whole business. Consumers are snatching up nearly 83 million pounds of the fruit each year. That's exactly why Mike and other growers were approached by the Orange County-based Dulcinea Farms to grow the new melons, as well as other exciting and different fruits and vegetables that the public is demanding.

"The thought process behind Dulcinea Farms was, in the beginning, we looked at the category of produce and asked consumers what they were most dissatisfied with and, based on their answers, we began to explore what kind of products we could provide," said Justin Schmidt of Dulcinea.

And what they came up with was a first--demographic-demand agriculture. Instead of farmers picking what and why to grow the crops they did, consumers were now dictating choices. Today, Dulcinea-based farmers are growing specific items like smaller produce, sweeter fruits and longer-lasting vegetables all to meet consumer demand.

In addition to the personal sized PureHeart watermelon and Tuscan-style cantaloupe, Dulcinea is also experimenting with a new type of tomato--the Rosso Bruno. Popular in Europe, this brown tomato is now available year-round in the states, proving demand is up for something that defies conventional wisdom about what a tomato should look like. And while brown tomatoes and some diminutive-sized fruit may have seemed a little farfetched a few years back, they are now part of a new trend in agriculture, as farmers and chefs learn what consumers want--one bite of homegrown food at a time.

For more information about the Foreign Cinema restaurant, please visit www.foreigncinema.com.

For more information about Dulcinea, visit www.dulcinea.com.

Recipes from Dulcinea Farms

Kooky Cookie Cutter Shapes

Ingredients
Cantaloupe or miniature seedless watermelon

Preparation
Using fun cookie cutter shapes--hearts, letters, dinosaurs, anything creative you can find--let your kids make their own creative snacks. Cut a section of fruit for them and hand over the cookie cutters. Place Popsicle sticks in the bottom of the cut-out, so they can be easily eaten. They will fill up on nutritious watermelon and cantaloupe and have fun in the process!

Dulcinea PureHeart Stix & Dipping Sauce

Ingredients
1 miniature seedless watermelon

Preparation
Wash watermelon and cut in half equilaterally. Place flesh side down on cutting board. Cut ¾-inch slices across melon; turn cutting board 90 degrees and cut ¾-inch slices across melon again creating ¾- by ¾-inch 'dipping stixs,' leaving the rind on.

Raspberry Yogurt Dip
1/4 cup fresh raspberries
1 cup plain yogurt
Puree raspberries and mix with yogurt. Add sugar if desired.

Marvelous Melon Faces

Ingredients
Cantaloupe or miniature seedless watermelon
Variety of fruits and vegetables:

Eyes
Cranberries
Raisins
Olives
Ears
Lemon and lime slices
Mouth
Cucumber shapes
Fruit roll-ups
Nose
Grapes
Carrot sticks
Eyebrows
Green beans
Asparagus

Preparation
Create platforms for the melons using small bowls or cups that allow your melon character to sit upright. Select colorful fruits and vegetables, such as grapes, carrots, green beans, cranberries, etc. Create wacky facial features and wild hair with the fruits and vegetables. Feature your characters as edible centerpieces or party decorations.


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