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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

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Why AB1066 is bad for California agriculture.

The agriculture industry feeds you, clothes you and helps stimulate the economy. But our elected officials are in the midst of threatening the agriculture livelihood of California. Agriculture is a $2.4 trillion industry providing over 1.3 billion jobs. But that could soon be changing, and not for the good. California politicians already approved a minimum wage increase that will raise our wages $1/ hr every year until it is $15/hour by 2022.  This wage increase coupled with the proposed Assembly Bill 1066 will kill the California agriculture industry.


AB1066 is proposing to change our agriculture overtime laws. Although some would like to tell you we don't have such in place, we do. Agriculture employees currently get time and half after 10 hours of work. AB1066 wants to change that to 8 hours. So by 2022, after 8 hours of work we will be paying our farm laborers $22.50/ hour. That is an additional $15/ day per employee if we continue to work a 10 hour day. This number doesn't even reflect the additional taxes the employer will be paying on the employee. For a mid size farm who has 10 employees that's an additional $150/ day or $900/ week for a 6 day workweek.

My family is a small family farm in the heart of agriculture's Central Valley, an additional $900/ week is a lot of money. Now let's say we do this for 60 days during our busy harvest season, now that's $9,000! If we have to pay overtime after 8 hours and attempt to continue running our business as we did before $15/hr and before an overtime law change, it would cost us an additional $9,000 for 60 days.

Now let's do some more math. Instead of offering that extra 2 hours of overtime to our employees so they continue to work the same hours, let's hire an extra person and have them work 8 hours as well. 8 hours/day at $15/ hour is $120/ day. We could bring on that new person for 75 days and it would cost us the same $9,000. So by cutting the hours of 10 people we can just hire a new person and not pay overtime.

Those original 10 employees would not be happy that their hours and subsequent wages will be cut. We will not be able to keep our farms running as we once did. But financially, as a business decision it makes more sense. At the end of the day, farms are a business and we must make the best business decision to keep operating.

But if our farm isn't able to keep running as it once did, those original employees will not be able to keep their lives the way they once did either. Those farm laborers will have to get another job, find side work or obtain financial assistance from state or federal programs. Sometimes our politicians don't understand how their decisions will have unintended consequences on others.

Watch this video it also explains it quite well!


AB1066 proponents say this bill will help farm workers make more money and even the playing field with other jobs. No, it won't. AB1066 will force agriculture employers to cut hours of our current employees and hire additional workers during the peak seasons. That is the whole reason the agriculture overtime is the way it is now. And we aren't alone. Firefighters, Programmers, Actors, Ski Resort employees and even some state employees are all the same as agriculture is now. We have peak seasons and slow times of year. Why are we just wanting to change agriculture? I want to Keep California working. Do you?

Please, take a few minutes and send a note to your Assemblymember and urge them to vote NO on AB1066.  The California Assembly is scheduled to discuss and vote on this matter Monday, August 29th.

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Plum Cobbler Bars

My father has one of the greatest fruit orchards. Hands down. When he planted his walnut orchard years ago, we left a row the length of their 2 acre homestead to plant assorted fruit trees. He has all kinds of fruit trees on this strip of trees; nectarines, peaches, apples, pears, figs, and of course plums. With about 4 of each fruit tree you can imagine the loads of fresh fruit he gets in the summer. Of course the family dog is sure to harvest from the low hanging branches. It seems like every time I am home for the summer I get boxes of fruit fruit. The last time I was home, I was handed a box of plums as I was leaving.

When looking for recipes to incorporate fresh plums into, there really aren't that many. I did find a few but if you follow my recipe posts, you  know simplicity is how I bake or cook. I needed something easy and with less ingredients the better.

I came across a breakfast bar recipe and of course had to put my spin on it! I brought these out to the farm one day and didn't know what to call them. I just told the guys they are a plum bar thingy. My father in law was actually the one who said, they kind of taste like cobbler in a bar form. So here you have it, plum cobbler bars.

I loved that they bake in a giant pan and then you can cut them into bars. I used parchment paper to line my baking dish with. This made it super easy to just lift out of the pan once they were cool enough for cutting. You do really want to wait to cut these until they cool. The first time I made them, I didn't wait long enough and they were super messy. Live and learn. Second time was much easier.

Be patient and cut once cool. Then put them in the fridge and enjoy them fresh from the fridge cool. They are so good, and really are a bar you can have for breakfast, snack or dessert! I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny

Thursday, August 11, 2016

How is an almond harvested?

Harvest is in full force on the farm. We started shaking about two weeks ago and now we are sweeping and picking up almonds. After we shake almonds, we leave them on the orchard floor for 7-10 days to dry. Almonds have a pretty high moisture level on the tree and it takes a while for mother nature to dry them out. When they are dry enough we start sweeping.

A sweeper is a self propelled machine that is low to the ground, has brushes out in front and a blower to the side. The sweeper blows the nuts from the tree line to the orchard row and the brushes then sweep the almonds into what is called a windrow. The windrows make it possible for the harvester to come through and pick up the nuts.
Side of the sweeper as it brushes almonds into windrows

The harvester gets pulled by a tractor through the orchard and carries a reservoir cart. The harvester picks up the almonds from the windrow and does an initial cleaning of dirt, leaves, rocks and other debris.  The harvester then dumps the almonds into the reservoir cart. This is one steady motion through the field. The tractor continues to drive up and down the orchard rows and picks up the almonds as it drives.

Tractor pulling the harvester
Harvester and reservoir cart
 Once the reservoir cart is full of almonds a shuttle cart comes up behind it.  You will notice the reservoir cart and the shuttle cart are made by the same manufacturer. These two pieces of equipment typically are the same manufacturer so the machine clearances line up correctly. The reservoir cart has to dump the almonds into the shuttle cart and you don't want to loose any almonds from the equipment not lining up properly. The augers inside the shuttle cart and reservoir cart help to distribute the almonds across the carts to maximize the storage capacity of the trailers. The shuttle cart then drives to the elevator to unload. The shuttle cart ensures the harvester doesn't have to slow down to pick up almonds. While the shuttle cart is unloading almonds at the elevator the harvester continues to pick up almonds. It is a fast and efficient process.

So when the shuttle cart gets filled up it drives to the elevator and pours the almonds into the elevator trough. The trough belts then carry the almonds up the elevator and into the semi trailers. There is a desticker attachment that is part of the elevator as well. The attachment will remove the large sticks and branches that may have got picked up with the almonds. Once the trailers are full of almonds they head off to the huller and sheller for further processing and into a store near you!

 Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny



Tuesday, August 2, 2016

It's harvest season

Harvest has officially started. We are moving and shaking on the farm. We started on Saturday by test shaking a few rows to make sure they were shaking clean and get any kinks out. Sometimes the nuts can stick to the limbs if they aren't quite ready to harvest or if they are too dry. But we are having good luck with shaking so far and a majority of the nuts are shaking right off. We like to service the equipment in the off season and make sure they are mechanically all healthy. So once we start up, hopefully we don't have too many major issues.

shaking tree
Monday, we started shaking in full force. Nuts look clean and good, but we will know better yield numbers once they are loaded up in trailers headed to the huller or better yet, once they are run through the huller.

 We are still mowing the orchards and we will continue to until all the soft shell variety fields are mowed. Soft shells are the California classification of varieties, typically we start with Nonpareils and Sonora. The soft shells are very porous and allow for more exposure to insects.  The soft shells are the first to harvest so we want to get all those fields mowed first to keep the shakers going. We don't want to slow down the shakers by not having fields that are cleaned and ready to go. Because of the limited amount of man power on our farm, the mower operators become our sweeper operators. So once we are done with the majority of the mowing, we will start sweeping. Everything is in full swing!
Mowing the orchard
Boss boy #littlealmondfarmer watching the shakers
Almond ready to shake




Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny