A Spotlight On: Local Farmers

In this video, I get a chance to talk to some of the local farmers at the Davis Farmers Market. I talked to them about, not only local farming in general, but also why they feel that it is important to buy locally.
I hope you enjoy it!

A Conversation with Sam Parnagian– A “Cuties” Farmer!


  • “Cuties” are in season from October through April
  • The mandarins are shipped internationally
  • “Cuties” are sweeter than other brands due to the strict quality control that comes with the label
"Cuties" at My Parents' House

"Cuties" at My Parents' House

Kerry Friend, a chemistry professor at Cal Poly, said:

“I buy other brands of mandarins in the off seasons for the fruit, but I prefer ‘Cuties’. I couldn’t tell you why though… they just taste better.”– Kerry Friend

Like Kerry, I have noticed many other consumers saying this same thing and wondering why “Cuties” are superior to other brands.

Luckily, I had a chance to talk to Sam Parnagian. His family owns Fowler Packing Company, which grows many of the mandarins for the “Cuties” brand. Here is our conversation:

Q: What all does your family grow?

A: We grow peaches, plums, nectarines, grapes, apricots, blueberries and “Cuties”.

Q: What is your most successful product?

A: Right now our grapes, peaches, and nectarines, but in the future “Cuties” should be the most successful.

Q: Could you tell me a little bit about the process of getting your mandarins into the stores? Such as how they’re grown, harvested and packaged?

A: Well, we plant a “Cutie” tree and it will take three years for it to first start producing. The tree has a life of 30 years. We harvest in the winter season in fields from Fresno to Arvin. Then, we truck them from the fields to our state of the art packing plant, which just opened two weeks ago. Once they are packed in boxes, our shipping department ships them across the nation and overseas.

Q: What is the typical season for “Cuties”?

A: The season is usually October through April.

Q: Was your season affected by the weather at all this year?

A: Not really. The colder summer delayed them about a week.

Q: So, many people have been asking me, “Why are Cuties so much better than all the other brands of mandarins?”… Is there a process at your farm that makes them sweeter than other companies’?

Sam Outside of His House in SLO

Sam Outside of His House in SLO

A: Well, the “Cuties” label has stricter quality control than other mandarins. We toss out any mandarin that is not up to code with the “Cutie” label. When they first enter the packing plant they are looked over by hand for any exterior defects, then every “Cutie” goes under an infrared eye that looks for any defects on the inside. And then we have random taste sampling.

Q: Can you estimate how many cases of “Cuties” your farm sells during your peak season?

A: We usually sell four million boxes and that number should be tripled in the upcoming years.

After having this discussion with Sam, I went home for Thanksgiving. I spoke about it with my friend Katheryn MacPherson (an employee of Ace Hardware in Davis) and she said:

“Wow, I didn’t realize that much went into growing ‘Cuties’. And it didn’t occur to me that they were grown so close to home.”– Katheryn MacPherson

I hope that all of you find the interview as interesting as Katheryn did!

When Should I Buy Citrus Fruit?

Have you ever wondered what the best time of year is to buy different citrus fruit? This presentation shows some of the common types of citrus and the best time of year to buy them.
For the full sized, interactive presentation– click here

The Almond– Protector of Humanity?


  • Almonds make for a hearth healthy diet and also aid in sustaining weight
  • The nut is harvested in late summer
  • Almonds may keep you from catching the common cold and the flu

Almonds-- by Danielle Keller (Public Domain)
Almonds– by Danielle Keller (Public Domain)

For as long as I can remember, my family has always had almonds in the pantry. The other day, when I asked my mom why this was, she replied:

“Studies show that people who eat a handful of almonds have more success sustaining weight. They are high in vitamin E, and are a heart healthy food. Those things are important to your dad and he’d rather eat real food as opposed to capsules.”—Lee Grayson

My dad followed my mom up by saying:

“Almonds are supposed to help with blood pressure and cholesterol, which men my age tend to have a problem with”—Kevin Grayson (in his mid 50s)

He also said that the Almond Board of California recommends that people eat about a can of almonds a week (or about a handful a day). The Almond Board gives a few ways to measure this, such as:

  • Pouring almonds into a shot glass
  • Measuring ¼ of a cup of almonds
  • Using an ice cream scoop
  • Filling a baby food jar
  • Laying the almonds flat on a three inch by three inch sticky note
  • And even using special tins that the Almond Board sells for almonds

You might be thinking, “That’s all great, but how do the almonds make it into my cute little almond tin?”

Almond Blossoms-- by Roy Fokker (Public Domain)
Almond Blossoms– by Roy Fokker (Public Domain)

Well, in the fall, flower buds begin to form on the trees. Then the process occurs as follows:

  • The warmer weather of January, following the cold weather of December, bring out the blossoms from the buds
  • Two different types of trees are necessary for pollination
  • Special care must be taken to make sure the orchards do not freeze at this point
  • After the petals of the flowers drop, the fruit is exposed, and the fruit dries on the tree until late summer
  • Orchard floors are cleaned and the almonds are shaken from the trees
  • The almonds are taken to processing plants where they are inspected and graded before packaging and selling
  • If stored properly, the almonds will have a shelf life of up to three years

Almonds have been in the news lately, as studies are showing that consuming this nut might prevent the common cold and flu. The skin of almonds made white blood cells better able to detect viruses in the body. Even after the almond is digested, the increase in the immune system’s defense remains.

Clearly, almonds are quickly gaining recognition as somewhat of a “super fruit”. So we should start seeing more consumers like Anna Consani, who consume almonds on a daily basis for their health benefits.

“I eat almonds because they keep you feeling full. They are also a good source of healthy fats and are good for your heart!”—Anna Consani (a political science sophomore at Cal Poly)

Farm to Fork in California Map

Have you ever wondered where the places are that I talk about in this blog? Well here’s your answer. This map shows most (not all) of the farms I have talked about, as well as a couple that I haven’t talked about (yet!). I hope it’s helpful!

Avocados- From Farmers’ Hands to Yours


  • California is the leading producer of avocados
  • The fruit was brought to the U.S. in 1871
  • Hass is the variety often produced in California
Zutano Avocado from Righetti Ranch

Zutano Avocado from Righetti Ranch

Lacee Paolo, an agricultural communications junior at Cal Poly, says:

“They don’t agree with my tongue. They’re kind of mushy.”—Lacee Paolo

When she says this, she is talking about avocados (also known as Alligator Pears).

Marissa Silva (an animal science junior at Cal Poly), on the other hand, says that she loves guacamole. She also enjoys putting avocado on her bacon sandwiches.

But how do avocados make it into your guacamole?

According to David Righetti, of Righetti Avocado Ranch, there are about 500 to 600 different varieties of avocados. More varieties can be produced by planting the seeds of parent avocados, but this often does not result in successful new varieties, he says.

If you were going to grow your own tree from a seed, though, the California Avocado Commission says you would follow these steps:

  1. Wash the seed and suspend it with toothpicks in a glass, where the water covers about an inch of the seed
  2. Keep it in a warm place.  Roots should sprout in two to six weeks
  3. When the seed has sprouted, plant it in a pot of hummus soil, leaving the top half of the seed uncovered
  4. Give the seed frequent, light watering and keep in sunlight
  5. Prune the tree once it has reached 12 inches to encourage more growth
  6. The tree could take seven to 15 years to reach full size

Avocados grow best in direct sunlight and in places with mild winters.  This is why they are so successful in places like California and Florida.  Although a tree could be grown in a shady area, they only produce fruit when they get a lot of sun.

California has become the leading producer state of avocados since they were introduced into the United States in 1871.  The trees introduced were from Mexico.

Hass Avocado from Righetti Ranch

Hass Avocado from Righetti Ranch

The Righetti family’s season usually runs from June to November, says David.  The harvest time usually depends on the variety though, as commercial regulations require that avocados reach eight percent oil content before harvesting.  Once the fruit is ready, it is picked by hand.

“We are well known for our Hass variety, but we have about 50 varieties of avocados on the ranch. Four of which we sell commercially.”—David Righetti

Avocados have become somewhat of an icon for California, since the state grows about 90 percent of the nation’s crop.  In fact, San Diego County is considered the avocado capital of the U.S. (according to the California Avocado Commission).

If you have not tried an avocado yet, I suggest you taste one.  That way, you can join the debate on whether or not they agree with your tongue… if you feel so inclined.

An Interview With Meghan Bishop on Bishop’s Pumpkin Farm

Olives– From Tree to Table


  • Olives grow best in Mediterranean climates
  • Olive oil becoming more popular for health reason
  • Olives used in spreads and breads
Olive Fruit at Albertson's

Olive Fruit at Albertson's

Olive oil is becoming more widespread as a daily household item because of its health benefits. In fact, Darci Malone (a Parks and Recreation junior at Cal Poly) says that when she thinks of olives, she thinks of olive oil before she thinks of the actual fruit.
Whether you prefer your olives in oil or fruit form, some might wonder how olives come to be on their table.

Olives grow best in Mediterranean climates like California and Italy. They grow on trees until they are ready to be harvested. Olives used for oil tend to change from a green color to a red color when this happens.

The olives are shaken from the trees and brought into factories, where they are sent through water to get rid of any leaves and twigs. If the fruit is being made into olive oil, the process continues like this:

  • The olives are crushed into a paste
  • After this point the paste is kept at a regulated temperature to separate the oil from the rest of the paste
  • Then, the paste is sent through metal plates, which the oil adheres to
  • The oil is then spun to get rid of any excess paste remnants

Video from Discovery Channel’s “How It’s Made” (watch first 6 minutes for in-depth process)

Olive Oil at Albertson's

Olive Oil at Albertson's

Recently, mass produced olive oil has been in the news because research is finding that some brands of oil don’t sell the “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” that they claim to sell. This has lead to a slight decrease in sales.

Ron Sanders, owner of Alta Cresta Olive Orchard in Paso Robles, elaborated on the olive oil market today:

“Table olives are familiar to American consumers, so they are usually successful. Olive oil is growing in popularity because of its health benefits. The problem is that really good olive oil tends to be expensive, and that’s holding the industry back a little bit. Our goal right now is to educate people about it, showing that the benefits outweigh the price, and that a smaller bottle of oil can last you a month or more.”—Ron Sanders

Olive Bread by Kevin Grayson 2010

Olive Bread by Kevin Grayson 2010

The higher quality olive oil is also often produced by smaller operations, which tend to sell their product locally. This aspect is likely a contributor to the higher costs.

In addition to the growing market for olive oil, many companies who produce table olives are starting to come up with different ways to use them as a means of keeping up with the changing market.

“Table olives are the most successful product for us, but that’s partially because we make products that you can’t find at the grocery store. Our top items are our olive spreads and smoked olives.”—Rosemarie Fusano, owner of Fusano Olive Company

No matter how you choose to consume olives, be it the fruit or the oil, the idea is still the same. Now you know a little bit more about how olives get from the tree to your table. And as consumers’ palettes get more accustomed to olive oil, we will likely see the market skyrocket (especially since it has many health benefits).

Pumpkins– They’re More Than Just Jack-O-Lanterns


  • This month is the busiest time of year for pumpkin farms
  • Pumpkins are used for more than just jack-o-lanterns
  • They are often used in food, like baked goods
Pumpkins and Squash at Avila Valley Barn

Pumpkins and Squash at Avila Valley Barn

When we think of pumpkins, especially during this time of year, no doubt many of us think of jack-o-lanterns. However, there is much more to the world of pumpkins.

Pumpkins are used for many different types of food items during the fall season, which adds to the success of the many pumpkin farms that make their living during this time of year. Such items might include:

  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Pumpkin Bread
  • Pumpkin Fudge

But how do the pumpkins come to be in your pumpkin pie, you might ask? Well, according to Meghan Bishop (whose family owns Bishop’s Pumpkin Farm), it takes about 80 to 90 days for a pumpkin to reach maturity.

Once the pumpkins reach maturity, they are harvested. Depending on the type of pumpkin, they then go toward their prospective uses. This means that some go toward being carving pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns and the smaller, sweeter varieties usually go toward food items.

These items, as well as the carving pumpkins, draw large crowds during October. Bruce Smith, of Avila Valley Barn said:

“With six acres devoted to parking on the property, we are usually full and people drive around waiting for other people to leave.”—Bruce Smith

Pumpkin Pie Fudge at Avila Valley Barn

Pumpkin Pie Fudge at Avila Valley Barn

Renee Richards, another employee of Avila Valley Barn said while ringing up a long line of customers, that:

“The weekend before Halloween is usually the busiest week for the pumpkin sales.”—Renee Richards

She elaborated that the weather this year decreased the numbers slightly because there was so much rain.

Some might choose to buy their pumpkin products already made by the pumpkin farms, while others might decide to buy the smaller pumpkins and make their own products from scratch.

Of her family’s farm in Wheatland, California, Megan says:

“Anything you can think of to put pumpkin into, in terms of food, we make it.”—Meghan Bishop

If you do want to make your own pumpkin pie from scratch, though, you would usually follow these steps:

  • First you would wash the pumpkin and cut it in half
  • Then you would scoop out all of the seeds and stringy insides
  • Cook the pumpkin until soft
  • Scoop out pumpkin filling
  • Puree filling and add to your recipe
Some of Avila Valley Barn's Other Pumpkin Inspired Treats

Some of Avila Valley Barn's Other Pumpkin Inspired Treats

Whether you decide you want to make your own treats, or let someone else make them for you, there are a wide variety of products that utilize pumpkins as a selling point (especially during the fall months). So hopefully you find this information interesting and useful when choosing your Halloween eats this year.

Also, don’t be afraid to approach the employees at pumpkin farms with questions about which pumpkins to use in your own dishes.

Happy Fall!

Where Do Brittany Hawkins and Megan Jonson Get Their Food?

Photos by Allison Grayson, Oct 19, 2010 – I followed Brittany Hawkins and Megan Jonson (agriculture sophomores from Cal Poly) throughout their excursion to buy groceries at Albertson’s in San Luis Obispo, California– from entrance to exit.

Vodpod videos no longer available.