By Copper Williams
Take a step out of the house, hop into the car and drive in any direction you please. Odds are you’ll cross paths with at least one field, orchard or another variety of crop spread out and across the vast horizon. This is San Joaquin. This is what makes us the agricultural hub of California. And this is why we are so fortunate to always have locally grown fruits and vegetables close at hand.
But have you ever asked yourself exactly why our humble little county is so ripe with opportunity? Or perhaps, what goes on behind the scenes before your produce ever hits the market shelf? Honestly, we were pretty curious ourselves! And what better time to investigate than when summer is fresh upon us and plenty of produce is ready to be plucked up from the fields found in our own backyard!
Quality Climate & Superior Soil
So why is San Joaquin such a superior place for crop production? What exactly is it about our region that makes it such a perfect place for growing produce? The answer lies beneath your feet and throughout the skies! San Joaquin is one of those few, fortunate counties with a Mediterranean climate, meaning it’s never frying in our sweet little center of Cali, nor is it too frigid. Because of this, our growing season couldn’t be better, providing long lengths of production time and a very short freezing period. Just enough to put the right crops into dormancy so they can harbor energy to grow in the oncoming season.
And let’s not forget the rich soil types spreading from Ripon to Lodi and beyond our county’s borders! Paired with the Delta and many of our local rivers, we’re able to provide adequate irrigation alongside critical nutrients Mother Nature has been stockpiling in the acres and acres of earth tilled each season. With a little help from our farmers, the ground yields a variety of viable crops.
This combination of complimentary climate and land is why Lassen Canyon Nursery (LCN) chose Manteca to rear their strawberry plants! Crystal Amen of Lassen Canyon Nursery is only too happy to explain. “LCN chose Manteca for one of its growing locations because of its light sandy soil and the availability of plentiful, high quality well water. Further in the fall and early winter the temperatures are low so there is a sufficient accumulation of chill hours below 45 degrees F.”
Danielle Cultrera of Van Groningen & Sons knows that the temperature is crucial for the many commodities they grow. “Melons love hot days and cool nights. That is why San Joaquin County is perfect for growing them. Pumpkins prefer not as extreme temperatures and they do best with cooler nights.”
Abundance in Every Acre
Anyone trailing down the back roads or skimming through Highway 4 will find major hauling trucks filled to the brim with tomatoes, while the fields alongside the Stockton Airport play host to outstanding rows of onions. And how, might you ask, are all these lovely crops grown? If you guessed “love” you’re only partially right! Rich Sambado of Primavera Marketing, who represents A. Sambado & Son as well as Prima Fruitta Packaging, has the scoop on how their parent company keeps their apples in peak condition! “We use a sprinkler system, a drip system. The apples get overhead cooling. It’s a mist system that kicks on whenever it gets too hot out to reduce the heat of the apples. When the weather hits about 85 degrees.”
And when it comes to growing, many environmental issues are a chief concern for our favorite farmers. Danielle of Van Groningen & Sons puts it into perspective. “Adverse weather is always a concern. As is irrigation, insects and weeds.” These problem areas can accumulate into high costs. With the drought wreaking havoc over our valley, water is a scarce commodity for production. And with water comes weeds which need to be plucked, pinched out or dampened by proper means in a timely fashion. The same goes for insects!
Harnessing the Harvest
When it comes time to reap the fruits of their labor, you’ll never find a grower anywhere else but among the very crops they’ve sown throughout the season. It’s a time when the worries of raising are replaced with the anxiety of rigorous deadlines. Equipment must sometimes be rented, all abled farm hands must be at the ready and long hours are a necessity.
Many of the strawberry plants of Lassen Canyon Nursery, for example, must be gathered at night to ensure a proper harvest. Crystal is only too happy to shed some light on how, by utilizing pieces of heavy equipment for very specific tasks, their harvest is done. “A chopper will chop a path around the field, only chopping what they will harvest in that night. We chop off the top foliage because we only want the roots. Next, the diggers start down the chopped section digging about a three-foot section. The diggers line up single file and follow each other around the field digging up the plants. As the diggers move along the field they are filling up large bins with the harvested plants.”
When it comes to their apples and cherries, Richard of Primavera Marketing understands all too well how carefully some crops must be handled. Using teams of workers, apples are plucked directly from the trees via ladder. Cherries are harvested in a much similar fashion. Richard explains that “the cherries are harvested one by one. They place them into a plastic bucket with a harness system. [The harvester] comes down the ladder with a bucket full of cherries and pours them into a 30-pound tub. Another person will dump that tub into a bin of cherries that weighs about 400 pounds.”
The dates of harvest are as fickle as the passing seasons, and growers use that to their advantage in order to keep crops coming in throughout the year, much to the delight of us San Joaquinians. Kathy Janssen, owner and CEO of Lagorio Family of Companies lists out her own line of production. “Cherries in early May are harvested by hand, walnuts in August are harvested by machine. Grapes [are harvested] in August and September by machine, olives in October by machine, tomatoes, wheat, corn and alfalfa June – October by machine”
Making the Grade & Stocked in Local Stores
Just like with snowflakes, no two pieces of produce are ever alike. And because our growers care about what they bring to our tables, they’re careful about what gets sent our way. That’s why many growers put their commodities through stringent checks to ensure that nothing too battered or bruised is bundled up and shipped to the market.
In this field, Rich of Primavera Marketing is a pro. He helps head Primma Fruitta, a packaging business and sister company to Primavera Marketing that process many of the cherries, walnuts, and apples in the San Joaquin Valley. He explains that, “Workers in packaging lines look for cherries that are over matured, soft, or light in color, which get culled out.” These anomalies are sent off to become juice or those tasty gems in fruit cups. The same goes for the apples. If any become bruised or have any scarring they are sent on to juicing or peeling, instead of getting stacked on the produce stands. Almost all of the fruit that can be harvested is reused in some way, to lower waste levels and increase profit. A win-win for the company, the consumer, and Mother Nature!
When this produce finally hits the market and winds up in your basket, it’s the cream of the crop! And the produce stands and even the chain superstores in San Joaquin know the key to a local’s heart. They keep their community’s economy bustling by stocking up on any region-grown commodity they can find, so long as it meets their own specifications and follows government regulations.
So next time you’re stopping by to pick up a spear of asparagus, sampling some of San Joaquin’s specialty strawberries or setting aside dinner for delectable cherry pie, make sure you remember how much devotion goes into each and every bite of your locally grown goodness!
COMPANIES BEHIND THE CROP
Lassen Canyon Nursery
“Growers of quality berry plants”
Be it summer, winter or somewhere in between, Lassen Canyon Nursery has made it their goal since their humble beginnings in the 1950’s to deliver quality strawberry plants from the West Coast of California to remote regions across the globe.
Produces: Strawberry Plants
Purchase in Bulk at: LassenCanyonNursery.com
Van Groningen & Sons
“Over 80 Years of Farming Excellence”
The name is synonymous with locally grown products in the lower corners of San Joaquin. Since 1922, Van Groningen & Sons has committed themselves to producing quality products for their hungry customers and passing the family business down from one generation to the next.
Yosemite Fresh Watermelons
Yosemite Fresh Honeydew
Yosemite Fresh Cantaloupes
Dutch Treat Sweet Corn
Produces: Watermelons, honeydew, cantaloupes, sweet corn, pumpkin, squash, almonds, silage
Purchase Locally At: Costco, FoodMaxx, Safeway, Savemart, Walmart
Sambado & Son
“Quality, Consistency, Experience”
This family began with a vision of farming fresh crops for customers and with its latest generations has not only continued living up to this standard, but evolving into two new businesses that continue to hold its historic values.
Primma Fruitta Packaging
Produces: Apples, cherries, walnuts
Purchase Locally At: Costco, Safeway, and Whole Foods
Lagorio Family of Companies
“Pride in every phase of our operation”
Continuing the family legacy from one generation of farming to the next, Lagorio Family of Companies still excels at holding to its standards of growing the best produce for its customers alongside the acres of Central Valley soil that started up the family business over 60 years ago.
Produces: Almonds, cherries, corn, grapes, olives, tomatoes, wheat, walnuts