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[EDITOR’S NOTE – Clemson University Extension expert Tony Melton is a regular contributor to SPW. This week Tony writes about citrus across the Southeast, strawberries coming out from under cover, and crickets. That’s right, crickets – you might call them fish bait. Some folks are calling them dinner. Tony doesn’t understand either…]

First of all, I just returned from being the head citrus judge at the 15th Annual Southeastern Cold Hardy Citrus Expo in Savannah, GA where we judged 75 entries of citrus from all over the Southeast. We would have had many more if not for the March 2016 freeze.

I will never forget the ominous first Expo in Columbia, SC where I had to judge citrus under a shed in bone-chilling cold weather. Normally cold and citrus do not go together, but as I have learned over the 26 years of being a County Extension Agent. never say “You Can’t Grow That Here.”

That first Expo (and many to come) was organized by Stan McKenzie in Scranton, SC who saw a need for educating people about growing citrus in our colder climates. With Expos as far south as the Sunshine State, west as Alabama, and north as Virginia Beach, cold hardy citrus is spreading/growing. Today, the word has spread and many homeowners, farmers, and nursery operators are into the hobby or business of cold hardy citrus.

Next, fall-bearing strawberries are “Coming-Out of the Covers.” For many years the increase of high tunnels, due to grants from the USDA Farm Service Agency, has spurred the growth of strawberries under the covers.

But, today many growers are leaving the high tunnels to other more cold sensitive crops like tomatoes and peppers and leaving the strawberries in the cold. To understand this you must realize that anything under 60 degrees is cold to us SC folks, but strawberries love this weather. They flourish outside the tunnels and only have to be covered during those rare fall cold snaps.

Cold hardy citrus — who knew?

I have seen growers do well with day neutral varieties like Albion and San Andreas, and even some early flowering June Bearers like Radiance. Personally, I am looking forward to seeing how the new variety Sensation does in the fall and spring. These fall bearing crops will take a break from bearing in the cold winter, but markets are generally low during that time anyway, then revive and produce a fairly good crop in the spring.

Finally, anything weird or unusual sells. Folks are finding niches for all types of fruits, nuts, animal products, specialty products, and vegetables. Lavender in the heat of the South, mushrooms in the countryside, alpacas and sheep in the south, chestnuts/almonds/olives in the South, all types of flavoring/sauces/spices.

Most states, including South Carolina, have agencies, groups, or associations to encourage, assist, and market locally grown, produced, or developed product. Remember it has nothing to do with selling – it is marketing. The following is the list of hot trends in 2018 developed by the Specialty Food Association’s Trendspotter Panel so you can see there is a lot of room for creativity:

1. Plant-based food substitutes.

2. Upcycled products that would have been otherwise discarded.

3. Filipino cuisine.

4. Goth Foods – the other side of the rainbow, black foods made with activated charcoal.

5. Alternative sweeteners for lower glycemic impact.

6. More specific product labeling.

7. Root-to-stem or utilizing the entire plant.

8. Cannabis cuisine.

9. A deeper use of Middle East foods.

10. More specialty breads.

11. Crickets.

All I can say is, “Oh My Goodness.”

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.

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