Welcome to sunny California and my Almond Orchard Experience! Back in June, I was invited to join a sponsored event by the Almond Board of California to observe the Almond Harvest in the Central Valley of California. Lucky for me, my schedule allowed it and I was set to travel to California mid August. I’ve always been a fan of almonds and California is my favourite part of the USA with its dedication to agriculture and the passion for delicious food and wine.

Orchard-Tour-SignLodi
I was one of 24 dietitians and food writers invited on the Almond Orchard Experience 2015 hosted at the Wine and Roses Inn in Lodi. It was the perfect location for the event and we enjoyed the lovely property and excellent service. It was my first time to Lodi. In addition to being one of the main regions for almonds, it has always been a supplier of grapes to Napa and Sonoma, but now it is starting to become its own destination for the wine enthusiast.

The Learning Begins

Almond learning On the first day of the tour, we set out to learn about almonds from the orchard to plate, which was of great interest to me being the Pod to Plate Foodie. We discovered that almonds are closely related to peaches and 91% of the California almond farms are family owned and operated. And that California grows the most almonds in the world! Did you know an almond tree has a lifespan of 25 years? I thought it might be longer! California almond growers are leaders in efficient irrigation technologies and always have sustainability inputs top of mind. Next on the agenda was the more nutritious goodness about almonds including their brain, heart and immune promoting attributes.

Smart Snack-Off Team Competition

Snack TeamSnack creationAfter a morning of learning, we were arranged into teams and asked to put snack trends and our culinary know-how into action for a friendly competition to create almond snacks. Our team of culinary geniuses named “Think Outside the Bar”, came up with Sweet Dreams, an almond, dark chocolate, tart cherry and ice cream pop that would appeal to baby boomer women wanting to enjoy a healthy indulgent. Even though our idea was the most creative and we thought outside the bar, we did not win the competition. However, we have had offers to collaborate with both Haagen Dazs and Magnum…oh wait a minute…that was in my sweet dreams!

Winery Tour and Dinner at a LangeTwins Winery

Winery Dinner

With my interest and extensive background in understanding the wine industry, I’m always thrilled to try new regions and their winemakers’ creations. For five generations the Lange family has been growing sustainable winegrapes in the Lodi Appellation and in 2006 they opened a winery to showcase their passion for growing winegrapes – because great wine starts in the vineyard. We were fortunate to taste some of their excellent wines with a new favourite for me – the 2014 Caricature Chardonnay! Then we enjoyed a lovely meal in the barrel room with more delicious almonds at every course.

The Orchard Tour

Listening-at-the-Orchard-
Now for the main event! The next morning we travelled by bus to Travaille and Phippen for the almond orchard and production facility tour. The day was perfect with a slight breeze, blue skies and 28°C. Did you know each fruit of the almond tree has three parts, all of which are used? The “hull” is the dry and fuzzy external part.Post Shaker Orchard It is sold as livestock feed which reduces the amount of water used to grow other feed crops. The middle part known as the “shell” is used as alternate energy sources in co-generation plants and as livestock bedding. And finally the internal part, called the “kernel” which is the nutritious nut that we eat. To get these fruits (all three parts) on the ground, there is a machine called a mechanical shaker. During harvest, it shakes the tree trunk and the fruit lands on the ground. Then the fruit is gathered and transferred to the processing facility.

Next we walked to the processing facility where we watched the fruit being hulled, shelled and sorted, then the whole kernel (nut) is transported to customers including Blue Diamond. Only the whole nut was the output at the facility we toured, however, almonds can be further processed into smaller slices and slivers, meal, flour, butter, oil and an ingredient for beverages.

Bon Voyage Lunch

Lunch post OrchardIt was a beautiful day to have a picnic lunch in a park close by the almond orchard. This was the official end of the tour and a time to chat with old and new friends while enjoying – you guessed it more dishes with almonds.
As an agri-food consultant and a dietitian for over 15 years, this was one the best organized and informative sponsored tours I’ve ever attended. And being in the gorgeous Central Valley of California was the almond icing on a wonderful adventure.