Last month I was invited by the California Avocado Commission to tour an avocado ranch and packing house. Considering my obsession with avocados, this was a no-brainer! Unfortunately, family commitments and a death in the family kept me from attending this amazing event. So, I asked my dear friend, recipe tester and bargain-queen extraordinaire, Annabell, to attend in my place. She gladly accepted this job and here is her amazing story. Take it away, Annabell!
Thank you, Laura!
Avocados… My fascination started with them years ago when I was a kid and would eat them straight up with a little bit of salt. It has continued to this day by having my family indulge in them several times a week. We love avocados: on eggs, in burritos, with tacos, over chicken soup, in guacamole or straight up with salt & lime.
Imagine my enthusiasm when Laura asked me to attend the Avocado Farm Tour in her place! She did not have to ask me twice if I wanted to go… Hubby can entertain the kiddo’s and I am on my way to Temecula, CA for the day!!
It turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous California day on the day of the tour hosted by the California Avocado Commission. In order to fully understand how a California avocado makes it from the farm to the store, one needs to see the whole process. A process which is usually not readily available to the public. On the agenda: A visit to the packing plant sampling of fine avocado plates and then a tour of an avocado farm.
I arrived at West Pak Packing Plant and, along with other SoCal food bloggers, we started our journey into the mysterious world of food packaging. Surrounding us were countless number of bins, each brimming with 1,000 pounds of avocados that trucks had just brought in. They were waiting their turn to start a highly technological process which I was not aware existed in the food world.
First up, the avocados are hand graded by workers as either “1” – meaning they are great quality, with no blemishes and suitable to be sold at the stores. If rated with “2,” the avocados are a little blemished, but are good for the food industry. Nothing is wasted, so the “3’s” are used for beauty products which are still full of nutrients, but are not so pleasing to the eye.
After the grading, the avocados are weighed and an electronic sticker is placed onto the avocado which then another machine sorts them all together according to weight. In the Control Room, there are live feeds where growers log in and can view their avocados being processed. I was amazed how stringent the quality control is enforced.
After this, the avocados are either hand placed into boxes or they are put into bags and immediately placed into very large chilled holding rooms until they are ready to leave for their store of destination. From the beginning of being picked to when CA avocados are on your table is about one week. This is very important. The big difference here is that the avocados imported from other countries, even Mexico, is about 3-4 weeks. If you find your avocado has brown spots inside, it’s sign of an old avocado, and definitely not a CA avocado.
After the packing plant visit we left to tour an avocado grove. During the bus ride to the farm I was able to ask my many questions to CA Avocado Commissioner & avocado farmer, Ed McFadden. He had an answer to every question I threw at him!
Upon arriving at Fairfield Farms, thousands of beautiful blueberry bushes greeted us. The farm owners, Carol and Bill Steed, were so kind to welcome us into their homes and they told us their story about how they came into the avocado business 11 years ago. We were spoiled with lunch from Sorrell Bistro featuring CA Avocados in an assortment of mouth-watering platters. Avocados have definitely evolved from guacamole. They can be deep fried, baked into bread and even frozen in ice cream:
After lunch, the best part had arrived! A ride in the farm wagon to visit the avocado groves! I did not realize that avocado trees were so tall and that each fruit is hand picked! We saw pickers picking the fruit from the trees, and we used long clippers to pick some of the fruit ourselves. It might seem simple enough, but it sure required a strong tug to be able to clip the stem off the branch!!
Here are some more facts I learned about the amazing avocado:
- California produces approximately 90 percent of the nation’s avocado crop!
- March through September marks the peak of the California Avocado Season.
- California avocados are hand-grown on approximately 5,000 small, family farms throughout central and southern California.
- Avocados are a fruit, not a vegetable.
- 1/5 medium avocado (1 oz) has 50 calories and contributes nearly 20 vitamins and minerals.
- Hass is the most popular variety of the avocado, accounting for approximately 95 percent of the total crop volume.
I really learned so much from this amazing tour! The importance of how an avocado gets to my kitchen and how delicious they are when freshly ripened made a huge impression on me. Listening to the Carol and Bill Steed speak about their passion with their avocado grove has further reaffirmed my decision to buy local produce. I hope that with the very informative pointers I learned from Ed McFadden – The Avocado Expert – very soon my 40 foot grown-from-seed avocado tree will soon produce some fruit for me. Thank you Laura, for allowing me to experience such a wonderful and memorable day!
Thanks, Annabell, for that informative write-up. I’m so jealous and I really wish I could have been there! I know I, too, am passionate about avocados. We are so blessed to be living in California, surrounded by such amazingly farm-fresh produce.
Now if you don’t live in California, or have easy access to California avocados, don’t be sad. You can order yourself (or give as a gift) a box of hand-picked avocados from my friends at California Avocados Direct!