Warm weather, drought put fig harvest ahead of schedule

MADERA, Calif. (KFSN) -- It's fig harvest time and employees with Specialty Crop Company are surveying every piece of fruit to make sure it's ripe for the picking.

"Really, Madera and Merced counties are the heart of figs for the whole state. We farm, as an industry, about 10,000 acres," owner Kevin Herman said.

This year's harvest is ahead of schedule by about three weeks, Herman says, due to warm weather and the drought.

"They need that good winter sleep, and some varieties it's more important than others. For instance, brown turkey figs it's really important that they get that good hard winter chilling hours. And as a result of not getting that this winter, the crop is down on that variety," Herman said.

However, tiger figs are sweeter and smaller this year. Figs have been around for centuries, but farmers have seen an increase in demand from the culinary world.

Chef Matthew Lemons of the Painted Table uses figs to make dishes, like a blue cheese stuffed prosciutto wrapped fig. "They are just extremely versatile. You can use them both in savory and sweet cooking," he said.

Local foodies will get a chance to try a variety of fig recipes from dozens of restaurants at the Fig Fest Saturday at Fresno State.

"This year we have a celebrity chef. Chef Fabio Viviani is a Food Network and Bravo TV star," said Karla Stockli, CEO of the California Fig Advisory Board.

About six varieties of figs are grown in Central California, with different flavors and colors. Valley farmers say it's a vintage fruit they're proud to grow.

In just a few days, the tiger figs will leave the farm bound for grocery stores around the country and even as far away as Canada. Fig harvest is expected to last until mid-September.

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