Big fun in Fresno
Okay, that sounds like a self-cancelling phrase, but it is indeed possible to have fun in Fresburg.
Last week we spent 2 days there, and I’m finally getting around to talking about it.
On Thursday, we had to get out of the house early so we could be there before noon. We were going to some property Gail’s son Ross owns just north of town, the Historic Cobb Ranch. Yes, “Historic” is part of the name–it’s a smart way to get your own personal adjective, like the arena in Philadelphia named “The Legendary Blue Horizon” or the boxing announcer whose professional name is “The Classy Jimmy Lennon”.
The event was the annual growers lunch Panoche Creek Packing puts on for the almond farmers they buy from. Ross is an independent almond broker, buying from the farmer and selling to users all over the world. You can’t sell what you don’t have, so it is important that he keeps his supply channel full and his growers happy.
A farm machinery manufacturer brought a few models for display, and I was fascinated. These are very specialized machines you would never come across in suburban life, so I had to explore and ask lots of questions:
Almonds are harvested by grabbing the tree with the white arm of this behemoth and shaking the hell out of it. In the old days, big strong men would hit the tree with hammers to accomplish that task; they were known as “almond knockers”. Sometimes a big stick is still used for particularly recalcitrant nuts.
The sweeper collects the nuts and puts them in a long pile extending the length of the orchard between the rows. Then a harvester picks them up, they are transferred to trucks and off to the processing plant.
These machines cost over $100,000 each. Some farmers own them, some contract with harvesting firms. Either way it’s big money.
Even the humble farm tractor is a modern piece of technology. With a low center of gravity and a tiny turning radius (due to a hinge in the middle of the machine), this tractor is much more efficient and capable than the John Deere of old.
The growers weren’t entertained solely by machines: there were speakers. Got to start with some sports celebrities and the inside dope on next years teams:
There was a presentation from an industry insider who gave us the industry outlook for the year. The short answer–we’re gonna grow a lot of almonds. Everybody was happy.
A buffet with steaks and chicken and jambalaya filled everyone up. Prizes were raffled off, by Ross’s partner Frank and his kids:
There were plenty of prizes, to be sure, but I didn’t win any, as usual. I don’t really need a farmers coat, anyway.
Friday morning we drove out to the processing plant. Health regulations require proper attire:
Almonds arrive at the plant in large packing boxes. They have a few:
The almonds have to be cleaned and sorted. There are machines that can look at tens of thousands of almonds a minute and reject stones and wires and branches and obviously bad almonds. Sorters separate the big from the small. Finally, though, it requires a human eye to to get the job right. We went into the sorting room where the final inspection occurs:
And that’s life in the almond processing business. Keep the growers happy and full of steak. Own a lot of big old boxes and make sure the product is cleaned and sorted properly. It sounds easy, but I don’t think it is.
Then we went to a Little League game, but that’s the topic of the next post.