In September (yes, I am a little behind in my writing) I had the amazing opportunity to visit Stewart & Jasper Orchard in Modesto, California. The invitation came at the perfect time, almond harvest season. Some of you may have been following my tweets during the tour. If you didn’t, read on as I walk you through the process from farming, to hulling & shelling to processing, quality and finally marketing. I loved having this experience and I am so happy to share it.
First a few facts! California produces 80% of the worldwide production of almonds. California’s cool wet winters, near zero humidity and hot summers make it the perfect climate for farming nuts. Also, Modesto is known for being foggy and the trees love to soak up the moisture.
Almond trees produce from about four to 10-11 years. During the early stages of bloom, when the trees awaken, they form small pink buds. These buds continue to blossom until the tree is filled with beautiful pink and white flowers. I was told that the first sign of spring in Modesto is the pink and white colored blossom that comes from the almond tree.
Honey bees, which are the number one expense for almond growers, are rented to pollinate the trees. Before you know it, green almonds are visible from the branches.
Green almonds, name given from the color of their hull are not ripe, but they are edible. Inside they hold a very smooth, white colored almond.
As the green almond begins to dry out, it splits, exposing the nut inside. It takes a couple of weeks to completely dry. Once it does, harvest begins.
Harvest begins by mechanically shaking the trees.
The almonds fall to the ground and sweepers gather them into rows for easier pickup.
After each orchard is swept the harvest is collected into field carts.
Trucks transport the almonds to the factory where the hulling process begins.
The newly harvested crop enters the pre-cleaner as the first step of hulling
The outer hull of the almond is removed by the huller and the sheller removes the hard shell from the almond kernel. The hulls and seeds have become byproducts of the operation; however, they are not discarded. Hulls are sold as a dairy feed ingredient, and the shells are sold as cattle bedding material to dairies within a 50-mile radius of the plant.
The almonds go through laser technology and sorting to ensure quality
Sorters remove damaged kernels and any foreign materials. These workers sort through the almonds and remove any alomd that has damage or has a piece of the skin removed. These almonds do not get discarded, however. They are used in production, to make items such as almond butter or almond milk.
Almonds are then packed in 50 pound cartons or 1-ton fiber bins
Now, are you ready for some almonds? 1 serving of whole natural almonds (28 grams)or 1 ounce provides ~165 calories, 6 grams of protein, 75 mg calcium, 200 mg potassium and 3.5 grams fiber (among many more nutrients.)
Enjoy almonds as part of a healthy meal or snack but like all foods, portion size matters.