Photo: the California Walnut Board.
Green walnut hulls lay scattered on the muddy ground we navigated through gusts of rain. A storm had upended the best-laid plans of our hosts, representatives of the California Walnut Board, for our group of nutritionists and journalists to observe the harvest of omega-3-rich walnuts on an 160-acre orchard in California’s Central Valley.
Orchard owner Frank Rebolo, one of 4,000 growers in California—the state produces 99 percent of the country’s commercial supply of walnuts—is hands-on when it comes to harvesting the crop. As we huddled in a shed around Frank and his wife, Elza, he showed us samples of hulls that easily split open to reveal the walnut shell, a sign the crop is ripe. After the walnuts are hulled, in sheds like the one sheltering us, they await hours of drying before they’re ready to be trucked to processing plants for shelling, sorting, and packing. Truly enormous reserves of patience are required of famers like Frank. It takes five or six years for a walnut tree to even begin its productive life.
Timing is critical: a year’s harvest must be accomplished in just a matter of weeks, from roughly late September to early November. Here it was mid-October, and because of the storm, work at Frank’s orchard would be delayed several days, until the mud dried sufficiently for him and his crew to operate their equipment. Vehicles that clamp onto trees and shake the walnuts loose from their branches play a significant role in the harvest. On our way back to our bus, we noticed a “shaker” slumped in the mud. News of a farm crop lost to inhospitable weather always struck me as unfortunate, but at a remove. Now, having met Frank and Elza, it’s personal.
To learn more about walnuts, visit walnuts.org.
Here are a few fantastic VT walnut recipes to try: