July was a crazy month, that’s for sure! Fortunately, among the crazy was a weekend of learning and fun. I was able to go on a Farm Tour of the San Joaquin Valley with the California Farm Water Coalition. We spent the weekend touring several different farms and learning a variety of different farming and irrigation practices. And of course, we sampled some incredible, fresh-from-the-field food!
The first stop on our trip was to Wawona Frozen Foods. The Smittcamp family began growing peaches and other stone fruits in the San Joaquin Valley since 1945. In 1963 they started freezing their fruits and along with 40 – 45 other outside growers, now process and freeze 80-90 thousand pounds of fruit per day during peak season. That’s a lot of fields to tend and fruit to grow in order to meet the demand for their products. They sell their fruit to companies who make yogurt, pies, fruit cups, popsicles, ice-cream and any number of different frozen desserts. It’s a unique and interesting process.
First, the peaches come in to the processing plant in these big bins. Peaches are picked by hand and growers can pick the same tree three or four different times, depending on how the fruit will be used.
Ninety percent of the fruit grown for Wawona are freestone peaches. Depending on the season, they could be processing upwards of 45 different varieties of peaches from their growers.
The growers pick the peaches for Wawona 4 – 5 days later than they would for peaches headed straight to market. This allows for better processing and a more mature fruit.
The peaches will spend 4-5 days in cold storage and then 1 day in the cold room to help release the pits. Freestone peaches often turn to mush if they’re cooked, but they are perfect for freezing!
We were able to tour the plant and watch the peaches get sliced and diced and put into IQF (Individually Quick Frozen) packs!
Not only does Wawona have a processing plant, they also run a fabulous Peach Tree Fruit Stand where they sell fresh peaches, jams, jellies and their famous “Peach Jewels.”
We stopped here after our plant tour to pick up some fresh peaches to snack on while we drove to the next farm!
This is Liz. Liz Hudson and her family are fifth and sixth generation farmers who live on 180 acres in Sanger, California. At Hudson Farms they grow Peaches, Plums, Nectarines, Tomatoes, Armenian Cucumbers peppers, squash, eggplant and a variety of other seasonal fruits and vegetables, along with fresh herbs and fresh-cut flowers.
Liz is a wonderfully kind and charismatic person. She had fresh peach cobbler waiting for us to taste, two different homemade nectarine jams and different varieties of cut fresh peaches and melons for us! It was a smorgasbord of deliciousness!
Liz also grows sweet yellow corn, which we sampled straight from the stalk! (Several ears of corn followed me home too! They were so good!!)
Of course, along with the fresh food, came conversations about farm water and the incredible expense of drilling wells. Even wells for domestic use require paperwork and waiting lists of up to two years or more before they are allowed to drill. When you do get permission, there is no guarantee you’ll find water. Can you imagine spending 130 thousand dollars on the chance you’ll find water for your home or your crops? This includes drilling, the engine required to run the well and the pumping equipment. Farming is expensive! We simply turn on a faucet and don’t think twice that clean water will come flowing out of the pipes.
At Hudson Family Farms they start picking from about the end of May all the way through September. They sell their fruits at their own local farm stand, as well as to places such as Costco, Whole Foods and Sam’s Club. Liz explained the sizing process for fruits. Fruits are rated for different sizes and the farmers get paid incentives for “bonus” size fruits. These are the larger fruits you’ll find in clam shells at the above mentioned markets.
I really didn’t want to leave Liz or her farm. She’s just the kind of person you could talk with for hours!
The last stop for the day was to P-R Farms, where the Ricchiuti Family has been growing almonds and fruit since 1914. More recently, they have been growing and harvesting olives to produce what Celebrity Chef Tyler Florence calls “Hands down, the best olive oil in America.”
Olives are another crop which takes careful watering and great care to grow successfully!
Along with tour of the fields, we were able to see the Enzo Olive Oil processing plant and follow along as Ryan explained the process of creating their award-winning olive oil.
We were treated to a tasting of Enzo Olive Oil’s lineup and Ryan walked us through how to properly taste and appreciate the delicate qualities of different oils.
We started with the “Delicate” oil made with Arbequina olives, which are a Spanish variety olive. From there we moved to the “Medium” oil, made with Arbosana olives, also a Spanish variety. We finished with their “Bold”, one of their most awarded oils, made from Koroniki olives, which are a Greek variety olive. The flavor characteristics of olive oil depends on the variety of olive used to make it. This was evident as we tasted and enjoyed each sip.
The truck you see on the label is a drawing of the truck the family used to deliver fruits years and years ago. They still have the truck and it’s a beautiful piece of their history!
So much to see and learn on these farm tours! The people and products are amazing. You can’t imagine the hard work and time that goes in to creating the food we eat. I can’t wait to share with you everything we saw on the second day of our tour!
If you are interested in learning more, here’s a post from earlier this year when I toured the Imperial and Coachella Valley!