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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

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Lessons Learned on the Farm


“Good morning, good morning, good morning, it’s time to rise in shine. Good morning, good morning, good morning, I hope you’re feeling fine” This was the normal wakeup call I received growing up, when I hit snooze too many times and my Dad would have to come in my room and remind me to go feed my animals before school.

Growing up I never once thought twice about how I was raised. My parents lived on the farm in rural Northern California about 10 minutes from town. It was close enough that trips to the grocery store or shopping were not an ordeal. Yet, far enough that we could play outside or in the orchard and we didn’t bother anyone. Working in the orchards during summer or holiday breaks was the norm.  Sure, I was able to the movies with friends or hang out at the river. But not before I completed my chores and fed my animals. 
Nowadays, when I return home and hear my Dad’s wake-up call it reminds me of the many memories made and the lessons learned growing up on the farm.


Responsibility. We had animals who depended on us. They couldn’t feed themselves, we needed to be there to feed them twice a day. When it was lambing season and there was a problem, we needed to be there to help pull a lamb or bottle feed a sick baby.  When the pigs were knee high in manure, they needed us to shovel some out before they got stuck in the mud.  It was our responsibility to ensure the animals were taken care of, fed and happy before we could head to school or off for the weekend.  

Budgeting. At the age of nine when I bought my first sheep, I went down to the bank with my mother and opened a checking account. I was responsible for buying my own feed, paying my vet bills, and budgeting my expenses. I wasn’t given an allowance like all the other kids at school, I was learning to earn my own money and make sure I had enough left over to buy my next lamb. Through the years I was able to add to my herd of breeding sheep and make enough money to assist with my college education. As a college kid I was pretty happy my parents taught me to manage my money so I had a savings to help me out. And after college, I was even more happy with no college debt I needed to pay off. 

Hard Work. Farm life isn’t easy. There are long hours and hot days. I learned at a young age that things don’t come easy to those who don’t work. I used to hate getting up early in the morning to feed my animals. When fair time came around my animals cooperated with me and we placed well. I knew it was because the hours we spent together practicing in the barn. A little sweat and perseverance you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. At the end of the day if you have straw in your bra, splinters in your hands and dirt on your face then it was good day. The joys of watching your hard work pay off make it all worth it, the day you get that crop harvested or animals sold. 

Persistence. You may not always make money. You may not always have a crop to harvest. You may not always have an animal to sell. But with a little persistence you can try again. My husband’s grandfather always told us the story of the year he farmed bell peppers, and so did everyone else. There was not enough demand for his crop and the harvesting costs were higher than the selling price. He decided to pay for sheep herders to bring sheep in to eat the peppers instead. He lost his money that year, but next year he planted them again. He was the only farmer that year with bell peppers and he made back his money and some. Sometimes with a little persistence your hard work will pay off. 

Your lessons learned on the farm don’t always come easy, and sometimes you don’t know the lesson until after you’ve made a mistake. Farm life teaches you practical life experiences that will stick with you.  You will stumble, you will fall down, you will fail, but you will appreciate the lesson learned and you will succeed in the end. 

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny