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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

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tour of Maisie Jane's

I was blessed to have been raised in a farming family where I worked in the fields as a child alongside my parents, sister and cousins. My father farmed with his two brothers while I was growing up and our family remained close because our farm was not just a business but a family affair. Today, nearly all my cousins remain active in farming. Some have branched off to their own farming ventures, but one has made a unique niche in flavored nut products.

My cousin owns and operates Maisie Jane’s California Sunshine products where she grows, packs and ships a variety of flavored nuts, butters, desserts and more. The simple soy tamari almond is my favorite, but the mint chocolate covered is a close second, then there is my Auntie’s almond butter pie, and we can’t forget the cowboy bbq. I am just making myself hungry now…so let’s get back to her story. 

I went to visit Maisie when I was home for a weekend and it was refreshing to see her young daughter at work with her learning the business at a young age. I love that farming provides an opportunity for the whole family to be involved. Just as my dad took my sister and I to work with him, I am happy to see family still has the opportunity to be able to do the same thing. Farming is truly a family business. 

I was excited when Maisie offered to give me a tour of their facility. A few years back she was busting at the seams of their small rented facility in town so she made the leap to renovate an existing facility and build their own custom processing facility and dry storage. They are also getting ready for the addition of a cold storage building on site as well, to better help them manage inventory on site with their growing demands. 
She and her husband have their own almond orchards now that they farm, the product is hulled and shelled at her brother’s huller down the street, then steam pasteurized to meet organic standards and everything is brought back home to her processing facility to make the yummy flavored nuts we enjoy. 
Getting ready for our tour
First, they dry roast all the nuts themselves in house. There are two giant fire roasters the nuts tumble through before they start their journey. The day I was there for a visit they were making cashew butter. Maisie has a full line of nut butters which include cashew, almond and chocolate hazelnut. 
dry roasters
Once the nuts are dry roasted they are poured across drying racks to cool down their temperature. Then they are churned into butter. It is as natural as that, no fillers and additives here! The butter is poured into jars and sealed for freshness. Once the lids are placed on the jars then the plastic seal is heated up to form a tight bond around the jar. Labeled, stamped and ready to ship off to a store near you! 
Cooling nuts

Nuts getting ready to head up into the butter churner

Finished butter being bottled

Bottled butter being labeled
The process is similar for her flavored nuts. They are dry roasted in the same barrel style fire roasters and dried to cooling. Then the nuts are bathed with Maisie’s own flavor recipes and spun to take off any excess coating. The flavored nuts are then cooled and bagged in their appropriate sizes, labeled and ready to buy. 

Maisie’s flavored nut products are the perfect little snacks but they also make for great gifts, desserts or a delicious addition to your meal. And I am not just saying this because she is my cousin, this stuff is addicting and amazing!

No disclaimer here, I am not being paid or bought off for this endorsement, just good old fashioned sharing of my secrets to you. 

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ask the Expert: Seeking your input

Have questions you want answered by industry experts? Interested in specific areas of production agriculture and never know who to ask?

Well I just might have your solution...This summer I will be running an ASK THE EXPERT series. I am opening the discussion up to you guys and seeking your input on questions pertaining to production agriculture in the almond or tree fruit industries. Submit questions below in the comments section of this post and I will invite industry experts in to answer your questions.

What areas of production agriculture interest you?

Beekeeping, management of hives and protection of bees
Nursery Production, growing baby seedlings into trees and developing rootstocks
Safety, implementation of California laws and regulations
Pest Control, preserving our crop and ensuring a safe food supply
Water Management, how tree farmers are doing more with less
Marketing our crop, managing of our end product in the market place




Submit questions below to ASK THE EXPERT and hear their answers!

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Preparing for harvest

With almond harvest less than a month away there is a lot still left to do. It seems like harvest kind of jumped up on us. I can't believe that it is July. For the past few years we have started harvest at the end of July, but before that we almost never started that early. Rule of the thumb was the first week of August. With less water, stressed trees and higher insect pressure it seems like maybe the end of July might be the new normal.


Future sweeper driver
But before we can start harvest we have to ensure our equipment and fields are ready to go. First, we do a check up on all the equipment and make sure we have no leaks, broken parts or anything that just doesn't look right. We have a mechanic come out and run diagnostics and visual inspections on the sweepers and shakers. We replace oil, rubber parts and plastic wear parts to ensure we are in good working order. Our little almond farmer also likes to help with the test drives to make sure they are ready to go.

We recently added the whole line of harvesting equipment to our farm; pickup machine, shuttle cart, and elevator. We check these too and start hooking them up to the tractors to make sure they will run smoothly. We also might have to make any modifications to the tractors to be able to pull the new equipment.

Even more importantly, before the equipment will be able to start harvest, we need to make sure our fields are ready to go. We irrigate the trees to give them one last healthy drink before harvest starts. During the harvesting process it can sometimes take a good 3 weeks to shake, dry out and pick up a variety. While drip irrigation allows us to irrigate while we have nuts on the ground, we will be busy with running the equipment and may not have the time to start the pumps to get the irrigation started. We want those little almonds to have a good drink before harvest to prevent them from getting to water stressed.

weeds ready to be mowed
The orchard rows themselves have to be prepared before harvest can start as well. We mow the rows to get rid of all the weeds and grass and to make the rows nice and clean. The nuts can get stuck in the grass and clog up the pick up machine if there is too much debris in the rows. We also level the problem spots in the orchards. The almonds can get stuck in the holes or tire tracks in the fields and they won't be picked up by the sweeper or pick up machine. We want to make sure every last almond is picked up and sent off to market.


Once all this is complete we will be ready for harvest....but first this farming family needs a vacation before the onset of long days for a few months!

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny