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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Almond Snickers Rice Krispies

Let me just tell you right now, these are so good and quite addicting! But so so so worth every bite. It's the beginning of holiday sweet tooth season, so you will want to add these to your recipe list.

Like most people out there on social media, my Facebook feed is often times overrun with recipe videos of the most delicious looking, oh so bad for you yumminess. Well a few weeks ago I saw Snickers Rice Krispies come across and they looked pretty good, then about a week later I saw them again and saved the recipe. Well Facebook is evil and when you save a video, it likes to remind you again and again of your saved video. After Facebook made me look at this video over and over again, I knew they had me hooked and I had to try it. I should just call this post, Facebook made me do it!

I will blame Facebook, but I did also think instantly of my almond farmer husband when I saw this recipe. He LOVES snickers. Like I find a few snickers wrappers a week in his truck. I bought Halloween candy and he automatically takes all the snickers out of the bowl for himself. I knew he would love this recipe, so I knew I had to make it for him.

The original videos I watched for this recipe had peanuts, which is what snickers uses after all. Peanuts though! Peanuts are a forbidden ingredient in my house. I do not buy them, I do not own them, I do not eat them. Nothing against peanut farmers, but I have a pretty good supply of almonds and walnuts. So why would I buy and eat a competitor nut? Well actually peanuts are a legume, not a nut, but you get my point. When I see peanuts on a recipe, I pretty much know I can substitute almonds and it will turn out like 100 times better. And guess what, they are still AMAZING!!!

The recipe is pretty easy and doesn't involve cooking really so it is a good one to try when looking for an easy dessert to bring to a party. In fact, I plan on bringing these to an end of harvest lunch we are hosting at the farm this weekend. That is if my husband doesn't eat them all before then. The only thing I had to cook was the melting the butter and marshmallows on the stove. Easy peasy!

The hardest thing about this recipe, those caramel squares. I seriously unwrapped over 50 caramel squares. That was so annoying! I understand if they don't wrap them individually they would all stick together in the package, but someone please come up with a different way to sell caramel.

The steps are pretty easy, make rice krispies, cut up almonds, melt caramel, melt chocolate, eat and enjoy! I did of course try a little something special on this batch and sprinkle a few extra almonds on top, this is an optional step for those almond lovers. I hope you all try this recipe and enjoy it as much as we did. The only problem will be trying to keep my husband away from them so I can bring them to the party this weekend!

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Farm Tour: Mariani Nut Company

I can't lie, I was super excited when I found out I had the opportunity to tour Mariani Nut Company as part of the Farm Tank Summit. Yes, the summit was a good opportunity, and I got to tour a cool organic farm Full Belly Farm, but Mariani Nut is pretty impressive.
Mariani Nut is a family farm in Winters, Ca. They grow almonds and walnuts as well as process their own nuts and a handful of other grower's nuts. They have been in the business since the early 70's, when almonds were being introduced in a larger scope to farmers throughout California. They are a family business that is integrated and innovative in what they do. They have deep roots in farming and keeping the business family operated is important to them. What a better tour guide than a family member too, Matt Mariani the son of the starters, showed us around.

The afternoon started with a picnic lunch in an almond orchard. How else would you enjoy lunch while meeting a farmer? I loved this, and I loved that he was so welcoming to our group being in his orchard. Let me remind you, I attended this farm tour in September, during almond harvest. There were almonds on the ground in windrows, waiting to be picked up, and they stopped everything so we could have lunch in an orchard. I don't know how many people appreciated this, but being a farmer I appreciated it immensely.

Glimpse into our picnic lunch in an almond orchard

Matt shared the history of his family while we ate lunch. His family members are Croatian immigrants from Santa Clara and settled in Winters in the 70's to start farming. They knew then how fertile and valuable the land was and invested in it for the future. Today, Mariani Nut is one of the largest, family owned almond and walnut processors in California. Matt leads sales and marketing for the company now.

They may still be a family run business, but their reach is beyond that. They employ 200 people at the processing plant just up the road. Because of their size, they are able to operate year round and keep all but 5% of the employees on an annual basis. They operate a huller, sheller and processor in one. I have toured a huller and sheller before as well as a processor but never all at one facility. They are unique that once product arrives fresh from the field, it stays there for all processing until it is ready for the consumer. I wish I could have taken you all inside with me. It was a sight to see for sure. Due to the nature of the business and competition I couldn't take pictures and I can't share with you their trade secrets from behind the processing wall.

Outside look of their processing facility
Shell pile outside the processing plant

The huller and sheller runs for 4-5 months during the peak harvest season. They will then store the shelled almonds and process throughout the year as demand comes in. With 75% of their crop staying in America and the balance going overseas, they have much more control over when they process their crop. To give you some perspective that massive pile of shells wasn’t even half of what it would be at the end of harvest season when they are done shelling the almonds. 

They market their product in natural, whole, sliced, diced, slivered, chopped and blanched. They even have a seasoned line of all kinds of yummy flavors. Mariani is an example of a diversified and integrated company who really does do it all. From farming, hulling, shelling, processing, marketing and selling a Mariani family member has their hands in creating a quality, healthy and delicious product ready to enjoy!

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Farm Tour: Full Belly Farm

So now that I have shared with you all my main takeaways from Farm Tank Summit day one let's explore day two. Day two of the Farm Tank Summit was tours. There were five different options to pick from; conservation, youth engagement, urban farms, hubs, and farmer for a day. I have always been one to jump at the opportunity to explore how others farm, so I picked farmer for a day. It intrigues me to see what other people farm and why, what works for them and what doesn't.

First stop for our farm tours was Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley west of Sacramento. One of the owners, Judith Redmond was our tour guide for the day. Full Belly is a certified organic farm, growing nearly 80 different crops. Their farm is roughly 350 acres and employs 60 year round employees including 6 yearly interns. They take pride in the fact that they have multiple generations of family members in their work force and happy to have their farm laborers pass on the tradition of working with them. They are a true example of love and care for our workers, they aren't just employees but extensions of their family.

Being a 30 plus year old farm, they have seen challenges and hurdles to farming. Labor is definitely one of those. Sixty percent of their farm expenses is labor. But with the recent California minimum wage increase and agriculture overtime laws that passed this year, Judith also knows labor costs will continue to hurt them. "Our expenses will go up but we won't necessarily be able to charge more for our produce. We need people to appreciate local food" Judith is completely right. Without consumer appreciation for the food they eat, they won't be willing to pay more for food just because it's local. When consumers are tied to their food, their community, their soil; maybe they will pay more and understand why it cost more.

Full Belly Farm walnut orchard
Judith wasn't shy to say "we know we aren't efficient, we are diversified but not specialized in what we do". Growing such an array of crops gives their CSA and Farmers Market customers options every week, but it doesn't mean they are experts on farming those crops. They are farming for the foodie, not the masses. They are farming for the millennial that wants a tie to their food, their community, that connection to their roots. And with over 50% of the sales going to CSA and Farmers Markets, it works for them. They have found their niche and are capitalizing on what works for them.
Full Belly succeeds by opening up and being transparent. They open their farm up for farm tours, monthly summer farm dinners, weddings, wreath making classes and an annual Hoes Down festival. They are truly showcasing the life on the farm and inviting others in to see the glorious and not so glorious times too.

One thing I really loved was their internship program. They ask their interns to dedicate a minimum of a year to live and work on their farm. By living on the farm, they are truly immersed in the farming lifestyle. From getting up at 3am to attend a Farmers Market 3 hours away, weeding the fields, or tending to the farm animals they get it all.

Full Belly Farm chickens

Full Belly Farm traveling chicken coop
Those farm animals, let me tell you about them. When we were getting our tour, the chickens were enjoying the shade and ambiance of the apple orchard. Their free range chickens have a traveling chicken coop that followed them from field to field for them to lay their eggs and escape any predators. They also have cows, sheep and goats. I spotted one of the cows in an old almond orchard as we pulled up. They use an old orchard that doesn't produce nuts anymore as permanent pasture for their cows. What lucky animals!

Full Belly Farm cow grazing on an old almond orchard
It was a unique experience at Full Belly Farm, one I am glad I had the opportunity to tour. It was like no other farm I had seen before. Who would have thought, tucked away in this little valley between Sacramento and San Francisco was a farm like no other? Where time stands still, where you can stop and enjoy the scenery around you, where they grow for the few who appreciate their hard work, where people come together to celebrate the bounty at hand.

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Farm Tank Summit

As a young millennial, as I am often called, I like to put myself in situations where I am surrounded by non like-minded people. My generation is seeking a sense of community and tie to the roots, locally and globally. We want to know we have a greater purpose and understand the world around us.

It was because of this sense of community that I attended the recent Food Tank's Farm Tank Summit. Food Tank describes their vision as building a global community for safe, healthy, nourished eaters. As a farmer I consider myself a supplier of safe, healthy and nourishing food. I wanted to take a closer look and see what it was all about. Farm Tank was a partnership with Food Tank and Visit Sacramento, the Farm to Table Capital, so I envisioned farmers and foodies alike coming together.
Farm Tank was structured whereas the first day was filled with panels and keynote speakers while the second day was agriculture centered tours, which I will cover on a later post.

Day One:

The morning started with check-in where I was greeted with a name tag and canvas bag filled with all kinds of goodies; coupons, clif bar, tin of California Almonds, kale chips, water bottle and sponsor flyers. I sat down at a table with strangers who were quick to introduce themselves and engage in conversation. My table was filled with another farmer, a medical professional, restaurant owner and a food distributor. I felt welcomed and excited for the diverse conversation that was to enfold.

The opening speakers touched on their agendas and why they were here today. But the overall message was for all of us to come together and discuss challenges in our food system while building a community of food activists. There were several key messages I took away from the day.

Communication is key.

The Food Transparency panel kicked off the day. It was very evident after listening to all the panelist that farmers' communication is key and currently not being done effectively.

"We need to eat organic because they don't use pesticides"  Eric Holt-Gimenez of Food First stated in his keynote.  If there are people in food roles and organizations that believe this, farmer's aren't communicating well enough. As a farmer, I know organic farms use pesticides and sometimes more pesticides than conventional. Good, bad or indifferent we should know the facts.

So many farmers and ranchers are doing good things, I often feel they get overlooked because of the few who aren't. Many farmers in the Central Valley offer healthcare, benefits, financial assistance for going to school, medical offices on site, daycare or even housing. But a lot of these farms are labeled bad because they are corporations or larger companies. What seems overlooked is they are often times able to offer more because they have more means to do so.

Marcia Ishii-Eiteman with PANNA made the closing comment that corporate agriculture was distracting our conversation and forcing us to talk about things they want to. But their contributions are often overlooked because of who they are.

We can't lump all farms together and say all corporate is bad, or all organic don't use pesticides. Each farm will do things differently. That is why no two farms are created equal. This is why communication is key. We need to learn from each other and be open to listening.

"If farmers aren't taking care of the land, they aren't going to be able to stay in business."

John Purcel of Monsanto said this great quote during the Food Technology panel.  John isn't a bad guy just because he works for Monsanto, but that didn't stop the audience from booing him as he was introduced. The great thing about large corporations like Monsanto is that they work with small and large growers. He knows and sees all kinds of growers and the one thing that brings us all together is our love for the land. If we don't have a love of the land, we won't be able to stay in business or pass the farm to the next generation.

And when our land produces an excess or we have waste on our farm, we need to find a way to utilize it as well. This is exactly what Nick Papadopoulos of Crop Mobster is doing. He is not only taking care of his land but other people's land as well. Crop Mobster gleans and takes donation to distribute to food banks or other outlets who can use them and reduces food waste. He operates an alert systems where you can submit a need and people sign up and share to come together to connect sourcing. 

Nick also touched on how consumers have turned to convenient food and the need for having things fast. He said we need to get back to the appreciation of inconvenience. Food and farming shouldn't be looked at as convenient, we should make decisions off appreciation. We, as consumers, need to appreciate our meals as a farmer appreciates the land. Every bite we put in our mouth comes from care and love of the land. There is certainly not an easy, fast or convenient means of producing food and there shouldn't be in our means of acquiring our meals.

Should seasonality dictate our food choices?

Farm Fresh To You Co-Owner, Thaddeus Barsotti certainly thinks so. And during the Infrastructure panel, he discussed getting consumers to buy based off seasonality. He has had great success doing so in his business model and I commend him for doing so. But as I outlined last week in my post, I don't think that would work for the rural mountains of Montana.
It was also mentioned, by Keith Knopf of Raley's, the need to leverage retailers to not supply food until it's ready. When you go to the store in January and want grapes, you have to be aware that those aren't local or fresh and traveled on a boat from Chile or Peru to make it on your supermarket shelf. If there is demand for grapes in January, the retailer will fill that demand with where product is coming from. Keith also discussed on education of food to his customers. Do consumers even connect the dots that grapes in January aren't local? Farmers, distributors and retailers all need to work together to ensure we are communicating these messages.

Size can be deceiving

General Mills, the largest processing tomato company The Morning Star Company, Clif Bar, Driscoll's, Organic Valley, California Almonds, Blue Apron and Bayer. These are some big names in agriculture and food and they filled the Food Business panel. But don't let their names dictate your impression of them.

Jon Bansen is small dairyman from Oregon who belongs to Organic Valley Cooperative. Organic Valley is a well known and recognizable name, but there are over 100 processors across the US to ensure their 1,837 growers' milk products stay within their local communities. When you are buying Organic Valley, you're buying local.

Almonds are in deed grown in California, we employ California workers, pay California taxes and contribute to California businesses but we also export almonds and not only feed the world but help to employ worldwide workforce of those connected to almonds in other countries. Richard Waycot, CEO of Almond Board of California, also pointed out how there are over 6,800 almond growers in California and 75% of those farm less than 100 acres. Hullers, shellers and processors are also mainly family owned. Yes, there are a lot of almonds grown in California but it's families who are doing so.

It is all about growing things in the right locale and that might not always be local. - Matt Wadiak, Founder of Blue Apron  He knew we are growing things here in California because it's the best place to grow them. Now this man gets it! After listening to him I am signing up for this service, because he understands farming. California is unique and special. No, I am not just talking about the people in our state, but the climate, soil and farming capabilities within it. Don't let our size foul you, we are specialty farmers who farm massive amounts of food that know one else can do like us.

Farmers are doing more with less, even with higher regulations and taxes

Passmore Ranch is a fish farm who is taking fish poop rich nutrient water and now growing vegetables with it. Michael Passmore is the owner and farmer and like many of us, he is frustrated by the government burden in California. He has expanded his original farm that once only produced fish to now using that high nutrient, fish poop water to grow vegetables. As he pays his employees more though, the extra isn't getting passed down to them. "The taxes that comes from their paycheck is irritating, I'd love to say let's pay our guys more money and they will make more money but it doesn't work like that."  Many farmers like Michael wish we could pass more money to our hard working employees but with increased regulations and taxes, a pay raise doesn't always mean more money in their pocket.

It's cattle ranchers like Darrel Sweet of Sweet Ranchers who also feels the burden of higher regulations and encroachment of urban sprawl as he raises cattle on mountain grasses east of Livermore, California. Ranchers produce the same amount of beef today as they did in the 70's with millions fewer cows. Ranchers and farmers alike are having to do more with less. We are being sustainable because we have to be in order to stay in business.

There are so many messages out there and so many people talking, it is hard to know what to believe. But by being engaged, having a seat at the table and connecting to others with non-like minds, farmers are telling our stories. I found it important to attend Farm Tank to have the opportunity to meet people I wouldn't otherwise and share what it's like to be a 4th generation California Farmer. By starting the conversation and opening up to others, you will have the chance to make a difference. I may have not changed anyone's views on almonds by attending this summit, I may have not educated them on challenges farmers face but I started the dialogue. Communication is key, and now a few more people know who to ask if they have questions.

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny

Monday, September 26, 2016

No two farms are created equal

Every farm is unique and different. Every farm has a purpose. Every farm is needed. We are all necessary. No one farm can produce enough. No one farm is better than another. No two farms are created equal.

Organic, conventional, sustainable, small, large, factory, family owned, cooperative, every farm is necessary. There is an ever increasing demand for local, organic, family farmed food. And that is great for dwellers who happen to live within miles of where produce is grown. I am lucky to live in California, where I have access to fresh and local food all times of the year. But to someone living in the rural Montana mountains, what are they suppose to eat in January? Beef and mushy potatoes?

We need larger scale farms to be able to produce food to feed areas in the country and world that don't have access to fresh, local food all year round. If I lived in Montana I would certainly get tired of eating steak and potatoes after 4 months and crave a big garden salad, or a crispy apple or mound of berries. And thanks to farmers in other parts of the country, they have access to these things.

Farmers Markets are a great way to access local and fresh food. In California, we are lucky to have year round access to these markets. Now, lets travel to Texas. In Austin, they have thriving farmers markets for four summer months. The remaining 8 months of the year they have to shop at super markets to have fresh produce. The farmers across the country are growing fresh produce in those 8 months, so that Austin families can still have access to fresh food.

Community Supported Agriculture is a great subscription program where farmers fill a box of fresh produce and consumers can either pick it up or have it delivered to their home or business. These boxes are great for people who live within 120 miles of these farms. But I don't think these farm boxes would look very fresh by the time they made the trek to Alaska in February.

All of these programs are great and necessary to meet the needs and demands for the people around them that thrive with these small farms. But for the consumers across rural America, or in bustling cities it doesn't quite work.  

What about the New York businessman who works 10 plus hours a day and picks up dinner on the way home, while riding the subway to their 500 square foot apartment. Most of these apartments don't even have room for full refrigerators and some of these city slickers are just fine not having to cook meals either. They prefer the fast and convenient, prepackaged meals they can pick up. Or if they are like Carrie from Sex and the City, they store shoes in their ovens because they care more about storage then preparing food.

Now these are all just examples of programs, farms, and consumers I have ran across in my life. But by no means are these everyone's situations and opinions. Just like no two consumers situations are the same, no two farms are the same.

What an organic farm is able to yield is not going to match a conventional farm. A small family farm may not have the same logistical resources to be able to ship their produce across the country as a larger scale farm would have. But with different soil, climate, water, fertilizer, temperatures, or seeds these farms are all able to grow different crops. None of which are better than the other.

In a world where we constantly are pegging one thing against the other, we are blessed to have options. Why must we pick one? Every farm has a demand. They wouldn't be in business otherwise. We need to support each farmers right to choose what works best for their farm. We shouldn't boycott a farm because he's not organic. We shouldn't protest a farmer because he ships his produce to another country. We need to support everyone.

As consumers should we really be telling the farmer how to better farm? Farmers are farming so you don't have to. I farm so you can be a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or whatever make you happy. When I am sick I go to the doctor, I don't try to diagnose myself and write my own prescription for medicine I need. When you get hungry you go to the store and expect what you are craving to be there. Because of farmers across the world, it will be.

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny

Thursday, September 15, 2016

How long is an almond orchard productive?

A question I get asked a lot, especially during harvest is "How long do trees live?" This questions is usually asked because people want to know how long an almond orchard is productive before we have to remove it. This harvest I have watched two different cycles of life on our farm. Our oldest orchard is seeing it's last harvest this year, at 28 years old. The production and profitability of an orchard definitely declines with age.  It's reached a point that it just isn't producing enough crop to justify keeping it around for another year. At the same time, we have another orchard that is being harvested for the first time at just under 3 years old. I guess it is true, with every chapter that closes another one begins.

Our 28 year old orchard is the last orchard on our farm that is flood irrigated. About 7 years ago, my family started transitioning our farm over to drip irrigation to help conserve water and better manage our decreasing water deliveries. At the time we started this conversion it just didn't make sense to invest into the irrigation system of an old orchard when we were going to rip it our shortly. Now, it is time for our 28 year old orchard to update and rebuild, or pass the torch. We will plant a new almond orchard next year and update the irrigation system to drip.

Row with missing trees due to wind storms
At 28 years old, this orchard also has gaps and stretches in the field with no trees. In a standard orchard after a rain or windstorm we take out the fallen trees and in the spring we replant where any trees are missing. Well with age, it got to a point that it didn't make sense to replant where the missing trees were if we were going to replant the whole orchard soon.

The main factor in an almond trees lifespan is of course productivity. Depending on soil type, water stress, environment, or disease pressure an almond orchard generally lives for 25-30 years before it is removed. An almond tree hits a plateau for yield around 15 years and after that it starts to slowly decline. So the short answer is an individual tree may be productive for a long time, however for a farm the economics of the whole orchard have to be taken into account.

This was the case a few years ago as well. Now our youngest orchard is having it's first harvest this year. In March of 2014 our farm planted this young orchard after we ripped out an older almond orchard. Now, in it's third growing year we are harvesting. 2014 and 2015 were all about growing, training and pruning the tree itself. We focused on maintaining a healthy and happy tree. Now in it's third year of life, it made it's first harvest.

3 year tree after it's first harvest
Harvester picking up first almond harvest
It is a great life cycle lesson on our farm right now. We love to watch the young orchards be developed and become productive. At the same time, it is sad to see another orchard reach the end of it's life. After 28 years, it has seen a lot of growth. But I guess the same can be said about our family. That orchard has seen our family grow over the last 28 years. If those trees could talk they could share the memories of our family and how we have grown, expanded and welcomed new life.

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Almond Coleslaw

It is hot and let's be honest, no one wants to cook or turn on the oven when it is hot outside. It is the season for grilling and staying cool, outside of the kitchen. With Labor Day weekend coming up, I am sure everyone has some bbq or swim party to attend.  While everyone loves a good hamburger or steak, those backyard bbq's need a good side dish.

Potlucks are the best, where everyone brings a side dish, know one has to worry about preparing a whole meal. But you never want to prepare the side dish at someone else's house. A make ahead dish where you just show up and plop your side in the fridge is the easiest way to do it.

I love this almond coleslaw because it is fast and easy. Few ingredients and ones that you can even buy all prepared and ready to throw in the bowl! One bowl means less dishes, which means more time for enjoying your company and relaxing.

Everyone has their own additions and modifications to everything, just like me.  But I do have to admit that almonds really do go perfect with this recipe. There is just something about coleslaw that is screaming out for almonds to be added to it. I also love that it is a simple recipe with 5 main ingredients. I am not a lover of mayo either, so I am always searching for mayo free recipes when it come to summer salads. Anything where I can substitute out mayo is a winner in my book. You will still need just a little, but trust me, you can't even taste it!

So this Labor Day weekend, kick back, relax, and have a backyard bbq where you don't have to cook!

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny