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Real Food: Avocados, From Grove To Grocery

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Pop quiz: Name a common green fruit that can be used in salads, sandwiches, dips, omelets, casseroles, and puddings… and is grown in some of the most beautiful places in the world? If you guessed avocado, you’re right on the money. And since California avocado season is just starting up, we thought we’d spend some time talking about all things avocado.

Thanks to the California Avocado Commission, we were able to spend a day at Pinkerton Ranch near Santa Paula, California, and then at Mission Avocados in Oxnard to learn all about the avocado growing and packing industry. Today we’ll look at how avocados are grown and packed; later this week we’ll look at a few avocado recipes.

California produces about 90 percent of the nation’s avocado crop, and there are nearly 5,000 avocado growers in California. Avocados are primarily grown in California’s coastal region between San Diego and San Luis Obispo. Although there are seven varieties of avocados grown in California, the California-bred Hass avocados account for 95 percent of California’s avocado crop. A single avocado tree can produce anywhere from about 150 to 500 avocados in a season. Their rough, thick skin protects the delicate fruit inside, making avocados among the least-sprayed fruits or vegetables in terms of pesticide use.

So, let’s say you’re a California avocado. You’ve spent 12 to 18 months growing on your leafy tree – and you’re still hard – but now that it’s March, harvest season has begun. Workers move through the grove with ladders and long-handled clippers that snip you from your branch as you fall into a protected pouch below the clipper. From the pouch, the picker drops you into a giant nylon bag over the picker’s shoulders, where you wait along with 30 to 50 pounds of your friends.

Next you’re packed in a massive picking bin that holds about 900 pounds of avocados and brought from a forklift in the grove, to a truck that takes you to the packing house. Once you’re at the packing house, you are sent to a hydrocooler, which is kind of like an ice-cold bath that brings your internal temperature down to 40 degrees. Then a giant machine lifts up you and your friends in the packing bin and dumps you out onto a conveyor belt, where you have a very eventful ride. First you go through a chlorinated wash and then you’re buffed up with a thin coat of food grade wax that improves your appearance and protects your skin.

Next workers pull out the lesser grades of avocados (slightly imperfect but otherwise fine, which go to food service) and you continue on your journey. You move down a conveyor belt that lines you up, single file, and then weighs you. A machine slaps a sticker on you that is specially coded to reflect your weight.

Then you keep moving along the conveyor belt in an individual pocket until you are just over the packing area you need to be packed in…and then – drop! – the bottom drops out and you fall into place, right in front of the worker who is going to hand-pack you along with avocados just like you. Then, boxed up, you’re ready to be shipped off in a refrigerated truck to the market.

If you’re selected to be part of a specially ripened group, you’re shipped off to a ripening room, where you’re held at a pre-programmed temperature and exposed to natural ethylene gas to make you ripen faster. After that treatment, you can come to market ready to eat.

Many thanks to the California Avocado Commission, Pinkerton Ranch, and Mission Avocados for this eye-opening tour. Coming up next, we’ve got tons of ideas about what you can do with avocados (they’re great for more than just guacamole!). We’ll leave you with just one teaser: a avocado chocolate pudding (yes, pudding!) made with coconut milk:

Yes, there really are avocados in there! Stay tuned to find out more…



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17 Responses to Real Food: Avocados, From Grove To Grocery

  1. Valentina March 4, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    Great post! What a fun journey for those delicious avocados. 🙂

  2. Nancy Rose Eisman March 4, 2013 at 11:27 am #

    Jeanne, thanks so much for sharing the journey with us. It’s important for people to see the care and effort it takes to get great produce to our markets and our tables.

    • Jeanne March 4, 2013 at 11:48 am #

      Thank you so much, Nancy and Valentina! I enjoyed every minute of it!

  3. Dorothy at ShockinglyDelicious March 6, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

    Great report on our tour! I enjoyed tromping in the fields with you!

    • Jeanne March 6, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

      Thanks! Same here!

  4. Sophia March 6, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

    It was such a fun trip. I had a blast at that tour. I’m still impatiently waiting for my loot of avocados to ripen though! Awesome post! 🙂

  5. Christina March 8, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

    Hi. Great recipes and helpful information. We would like to find a local fruit/veggie delivery service. Is there one you would recommend? I’ve looked at Melissa’s but not sure if there are others. Thank you!

  6. Kim March 8, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

    What a wonderful tour. 🙂 I would have liked to be a little avocado rolling around those machines and getting my spray/tan on.

    Look forward to some recipes!


    • Jeanne March 8, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

      LOL – Yep, it’s good to be an avocado! Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Nancy@acommunaltable March 10, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    Great recap of our tour! So fun to spend time with you Jeanne!!

    • Jeanne March 10, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

      Thanks, Nancy! Great to see you again!

  8. helen brown January 17, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

    Hi, Jeanne! I really love your first pic (avocado grove), and want to include it in a brochure I’m designing. How do I go about using your photos??

  9. Jeanne January 18, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    Thanks, Helen – I will email you!

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