As I stepped directly into underbrush of the avocado tree, sunlight streaming through giant rustling leaves, my breath caught in my throat. There they were: a small sea of bright emerald green avocados, swaying gently in the breeze from surprisingly long stems, encircling me as the tree seemed to swallow me whole. Or perhaps to embrace me. An involuntary smile crept across my lips; for a foodie and nutritionist, it just doesn’t get any better than this.
We had come to this farm on a mission. To see firsthand how HASS avocados are grown from Jamie Johnson, a 3rd generation avocado farmer whose Rancho Simpatica sits on 1200 acres-400 of which are used to cultivate approximately 40,000 avocado trees.
I’ve long loved this supergreen fruit for it’s taste and health perks: how bite for bite, avocados pack nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. How they can be a healthy swap for butter in your favorite baked goods. How they’re rich in monounsaturated fats-which emerging science suggests may help regulate blood sugar and trim belly fat as part of a reduced calorie diet. And how my kids and I just love eating them.
But back to the farm. What did I learn? Plenty-as you always do when you take the time to see where food was before it reached your plate. Here are some highlights:
4 Fun Facts from the Farm
1) Avocados need bees. Several beehives are located around the farm because bees play a key role in helping the trees pollinate and reproduce. Apparently, the local bears especially love this aspect of the farm, too. Hence the electric fencing.
2) Avocados have fewer pests than many other crops. This lets the farm use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) an environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that doesn’t rely as heavily on pesticides. Indeed, I love that avocados have one of the lowest pesticide residues of any produce, earning a coveted spot on the Environmental Working Group's Clean 15 . IPM also helps counteract superbugs and superweeds.
3) Avocados have a blissfully long growing season. Unlike crops like citrus or grapes, where fruit is harvested all at once when its ripe, avocado trees are harvested 3-4 times a year, with the largest fruits plucked each time (they are picked by hand, using special cutters to clip the stem). This (along with different growing regions) helps keep this healthy superfruit in the grocery store year round.
4) America’s biggest Avocado Eating Day of the Year is....This SUNDAY! That’s right- a whopping 79 million pounds of avocados are eaten on Superbowl Sunday, or about 5% of the total amount consumed annually. Just how much is that? Emiliano Escobido, executive director of the HASS avocado board, revealed that it's enough to fill a football field end zone to end zone a whopping 30 feet high.
After all the talk of guacamole, (and some delicious tastes) it was a good thing my dear friend and fellow RD Mitzi Dulan
and I were lucky enough to both left with a giant bag of avocados to get our game on this Sunday! You can read her blog from the day here
. A big, sincere thank you to Jamie, Emiliano, Ed and Gina for such an amazing day!
Check out www.avocadocentral.com
for some fresh guacamole recipe ideas, and to see the latest science about the health benefits.
(Disclosure: I am a past spokesperson for HASS avocados, and did return home with a giant bag full of oranges, lemons and avocados fresh from the farm.)