In the five years I’ve been a blogger, I never would have imagined the opportunities or the incredible amount of knowledge I would gain as I traveled this path. This past weekend, I was with the California Farm Water Coalition, taking a tour of the Sacramento Valley and the northern portion of the state. We learned about the challenges facing the Sacramento Delta and surrounding regions, as well as being introduced to some amazing farmers doing incredible things!
This is my third tour with the California Farm Water Coalition. Each time I have come away from the experience with so much information, it’s mind-boggling! I’m honored and humbled to be sharing these farmers with you! The work they do is more than providing things to our local grocery stores. We should be grateful for all the hard labor and effort that goes in to keeping our national supplied with food!
Our first stop on the tour, brought us to Lester Farms, just outside Winters, California. They grow apricots, peaches, cherries, prunes and walnuts. Stan Lester has been in his current location since 1975, but his family has been in farming in California since 1883! That’s a long time! We were fortunate to be visiting while they were harvesting their walnut crops and got to see the entire process.
Stan also took time from his busy day to talk to us about the myriad of challenges facing farmers. They deal with weather, water supply, pest management, equipment issues, stock and growing production, gambles with new types of trees, new varieties, supply and demand, working 7 days a week, 365 days a year and getting paid only once a year. Can you imagine getting paid just once a year? Could you also imagine, not getting a day off, ever? Working on a farm means there is always something to be done. Always work to do. It’s a give and take relationship though. Taking care of trees (or crops) and putting your heart into what you do, is rewarded with success and crops that help to feed the rest of the world.
With walnuts, harvest begins September through early October, depending on the region. If the weather permits, harvest usually wraps up by mid-November. This season was an early one for walnuts and Lester Farms was finishing it’s last few weeks of harvest.
Walnuts are ready to be harvested when the green outer hull surrounding the nut, splits open.
Nuts that have not dropped naturally from the tree, are mechanically shaken to remove them from the tree limbs. This is done with a machine called a “shaker.” A shaker is a short little piece of equipment with a claw attached to the end of a boom. The shaker operator gently grabs the tree trunk with the claw and vigorously shakes the tree until the remaining nuts fall to the ground. I was fascinated to learn different varieties of nuts (and other fruits that are mechanically harvested) have their own setting on the shakers to determine the weight and strength with which to shake each tree.
Once the nuts are on the ground, the next step is to bring in the sweepers. These small machines sweep the nuts into what are called “wind rows” using a combination of powerful blowers and rotating rakes. Once the nuts are in wind rows, a mechanical nut harvester picks up the walnuts and transfers them into carts, then into large dump trailers.
The walnuts are taken to a hulling and drying facility where any remaining hulls are removed and the nuts are washed before passing over a sorting table. The separated hulls get ground up and are often spread back in the orchards to provide nutrients for the trees.
Walnuts are then sent to another processing plant where they go through additional cleaning and sorting. From there, nuts are either packed to be sold whole or run through a shelling line where the nuts are cracked and packaged for other uses. Nuts from Lester Farms find their way to China, Japan and Germany, as well as places right here in the USA.
Walnut production takes commitment and patience. After a walnut sapling is planted, it takes three to five years for it to grow into a tree suitable for harvesting.
“Suitable for Harvesting” doesn’t mean the tree is fully mature, or that it gives off a large number of walnuts. It takes 9-12 years for a tree to provide a good flow for harvest and then another few years before the farmers are actually making a profit from that tree or orchard. This is assuming everything has been perfect for the last 12-15 years and there has been plenty of water, and no severe weather issues, pests or disease have gotten into the trees. It’s a true labor of love.
Stan told us: “Trees are like people. They need water and vitamins. They need to be monitored for disease (and insects) and it’s important to have a good place for them to grow.” Each step in the process from planting, growing, harvesting, packing, and finally delivering to market is handled with extreme care and great attention to detail.
Lester Farms is certainly providing an excellent place for walnuts and other fruits to grow and flourish.
If you’re ever up near Winters, California, you’ll want to stop in to Lester Farms Bakery! They are officially a “Farm to Bakery” establishment, growing much of the produce they use in their baked goods. I love this concept! What another fantastic way to share what they’re doing on their farm!
You’ll find all the traditional goodies here, but my favorite was the dried apricot hand pie. Made with local apricots, of course!
Full of great food and a plethora of information about walnuts (along with a tasty treat bag from Stan! Thank you!!) it was time for this group of bloggers to move on!
Our next stop? A small family dairy making artisan cheese! Stay tuned for all the delicious details!
Until next time friends! Live life deliciously!