At the end of February, myself and two other members of the Ferris team went on a trip to California to touch base with our almond and walnut suppliers. Our mission was to become better acquainted with the growing and processing methods of both of these tree nuts. In just two days we toured three almond processing facilities, two walnut shelling/processing facilities, an almond orchard and a walnut orchard. It was a busy two days!
When we arrived in California, the last of the almonds were blooming. We watched the petal fall as we listened to the loud buzzing bees, brought in for the bloom to ensure successful cross-pollination. Their hives were evenly spaced between trees. After maturing, harvesting, drying, hulling and shelling, the raw whole almond kernels travel to a facility where they go through numerous checks to separate rocks, shell and other material out of the batch. We visited one of these facilities which used UV lights (to check density), laser technology and cameras to properly separate. I thought it was fascinating that with all the innovative technology we witnessed, at the end of the day the final sorting is always performed by human hands. Pasteurization was the next step in the almonds journey as it is a FDA requirement in the United States. At the facility we toured, we were able to witness the latest, chemical-free, steam method of pasteurization.
Walnuts had a few months before blooming so the trees in that orchard were still looking dormant. However, the shelling and processing we witnessed was intriguing! It is a far more delicate operation for walnuts. They require equipment that will not crumble the soft meat of the nut. We toured machinery that involved gentle air pressure, many shaking screens, and laser technology. An interesting element of walnuts is that they are not only sorted by variety and size, but also by color. Color is hard to predict since it depends so greatly on weather conditions throughout the walnut development. Up until the last day on the tree, Walnuts can become sunburned and grow darker in color. This is something that doesn’t necessarily change the flavor of the walnuts, but it does decrease the value for aesthetic purposes.
During the trip, we met with many people within the tree nut industry who put a lot of love and care into their work. We learned their perspectives on everything from new almond varieties and the condition of the international market to common walnut fungi. It became clear that for every single nut and fruit in our retail display case, the labors of many played a significant role in getting them there. It gave me a sense of honor to meet the people involved. We work hard here at Ferris, but the journey doesn’t start here. Almonds and walnuts cannot be grown in our backyard, so we supply only from those who are just as passionate as us, and we strive to strengthen our relationships with them to build something that thrives.