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!

Highlights:

  • “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?

Highlights:

  • 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

Highlights:

  • 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