Photo by John Ivanko
Eating farmsteadtarian is about being on a first-name basis with your farmer, so we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to tour an almond farm—one of the 5,300 that supply the farmer-owned Blue Diamond Cooperative with these super-nutritious, versatile and easy-to-cook-with nuts.
We received the invitation to visit Kevin Fondse’s ranch outside Ripon, Calif., when we met his sister Cheryl Hunt and her husband, Doug, during one of our Farmstead Chef book-tour events. California grows so many almonds that it supplies about 80 percent of the world’s crop, and Ripon is widely considered the almond capital of the state.
“We grow 10 different varieties of a-monds,” boomed Kevin, a burly farmer who took pride that his ranch now includes his son, Mike. Mike is the fourth generation to farm this 150-acre ranch, which includes a grove of more than 12,500 almond trees.
When pressed on his pronunciation of almonds, Kevin jokes: “We knocked the L out them during the harvest.”
But there no doubt he’s serious about his nutty enterprise. He also serves on the board of directors for Blue Diamond Growers and is quick to rattle off the names of all their whole, natural, dry-roasted and oil-roasted products, like Almond Breeze milk and the bestselling smokehouse-flavored almonds.
The Fondse’s ranch receives no rain from June to November, but as we toured, it became crystal clear that water was essential to the success of their operation. So much so, they take painstaking efforts to conserve what little they have by using both drip irrigation and micro-sprinklers—or “micros,” as Kevin calls them. They even have ground-moisture sensors. At times, we felt as if we were listening to Luke Skywalkers’ uncle talking about their moisture farming on Tatooine.
While some ranchers still rely on flooding their fields at certain times of the year, the Fondse’s approach to irrigation seems far more precise, focused on the trees and the timing appropriate for their needs. Standing atop their new 2-acre water containment pond, Kevin anticipated how it could serve his water needs should a drought set in or water access becomes more challenging or expensive.
“The last time we irrigated in the winter was 20 years ago,” Kevin admits. “The biggest thing in California is water. We can grow any crop anywhere. All we need is a couple feet of soil.”
Nearby, a tractor machine moved back and forth between rows of mature almond trees, alternating each tree. Kevin explained how any leftover almonds need to be shook from the trees and swept up (with another specialized machine) to avoid the naval orange worm, one of the pests that often overwinter in the unharvested nuts.
“Come harvest time, we’ll be shaking the money out of the trees,” smiles Kevin, referring to the same tractor put to use during peak harvest time from August through November.
The good news for his operation: Americans are going nuts for nuts. According to the Food Channel’s trend report “Top 10 Snack Trends for 2010”: “Snacking habits are adjusting to talk about how good nuts are for you, with nuts and granola, nuts and fruits, and smoked nuts.”
To get more almonds in your diet, try this trout recipe from the Blue Diamond Growers cooperative. Trout is one of the better fish to enjoy sustainably, especially if you’re fortunate to be able to catch it yourself. If purchasing your trout at a store, rainbow trout farmed in the U.S. is a “Best Choice” according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch because it’s done in an environmentally responsible way.
Recipe: Trout With Almond And Mustard Sauce
Recipe courtesy the Blue Diamond Cooperative
Yield: 4 servings
- 4 trout, cleaned
- 1 cup flour
- 4 T. vegetable oil, divided
- 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
- 2 cup dry white wine
- 6 T. Dijon mustard
- 4 T. butter
- 2 tsp. chopped, fresh dill or 1/2 t. dried dill
- 1 tsp. honey
- 1/4 tsp. white pepper, ground
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 2/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
Lightly dredge trout in flour and pat off excess. Over high heat, brown trout in 2 tablespoons oil. Reduce heat to medium, and cook trout 2 to 3 minutes on each side until just tender; remove trout and keep warm. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to pan and sauté shallots until translucent. Add wine and reduce liquid by half. Stir in mustard, butter, dill, honey, pepper, salt and almonds. Drizzle sauce over trout.
Check back next week for our delicious creamy vegan almond dip, made with raw almonds and inspired by our visit to the almond ranch.
Savoring the good life,