Sunday Reads: No rain OK for oyster farmers, a farmer memorial and Sprouts' growth

Credit: Point Reyes Oyster Company

Credit: Point Reyes Oyster Company

Drought is a killer out in California. o rain equals no harvest in the agricultural mecca. But for oyster farmers, the lack of rainfall isn't so bad, they tell the San Francisco Chronicle

“We’re about the only farmers you’ll meet who love drought,” said Martin Strain, owner of the 29-year-old company. “We benefit in a big way and the past three years have been very dry. It’s been good for business.”

Normally, Strain has to stop harvest for about 90 days of the year due to rainfall–during storms, oyster farmers are subjected to frequent shut downs because of concerns about run-off and potential associated bacteria in the water. With the drought, the closures have been about a third of usual, says Strain.

“If you have to be shut down three months of the year, most businesses aren’t going to stay in business,” says Strain.

John Vollmer was one of the first North Carolina farmers to quit the chemical-intensive practices of  tobacco farming to go organic in the early 1990s. He recently passed away at 71 from a long battle with prostate cancer. His story, and the legacy his children continue, was featured this week in N.C.'s Eastern Wake News.

The notion that pesticides and fungicides might not be as helpful, or innocent, as previously thought began to take root, and he and his wife, Betty Vollmer, decided that a future growing organic pumpkins and educating children about where honey comes from made a lot of sense.

The couple ripped out dozens of acres of tobacco and in its place planted strawberries and broccoli. In the end, it simply felt better than continuing on with their conventional single crop.

Unknown in my region, the South, Sprouts Markets are the fastest-growing supermarket chain in the country. Most of their stores are in the Southwest, mainly California, Arizona and Texas, but the company is out-pacing, and undercutting, bigger names like Whole Foods and even Wal-Mart. How? Produce. Lots of it and the focus of its stores.

As you can see, Sprouts' produce section is big, in the back, and not up front as is common.

As you can see, Sprouts' produce section is big, in the back, and not up front as is common.

As this Quartz story notes, Sprouts relies on its proximity to California's ag bounty to keep its fresh product cheap. If Sprouts chooses to expand down South, or up the East Coast, keeping low-cost produce on the shelves may present a problem. But forecasts of the company's growth are still glowing.