What common green fruit goes in salads, sandwiches, dips, omelets, casseroles, and puddings… and grows in some of the most beautiful places in the world? If you guessed California avocados, you’re right on the money. And since California avocado season is here, we want to learn about all things avocado.
Luckily, the California Avocado Commission invited us to spend a day at Pinkerton Ranch near Santa Paula, California, and then at Mission Avocados in Oxnard. Over the course of the day, we learned all about the California avocado growing and packing industry. Today we’ll look at how avocados are grown and packed.
California Grown Avocados
California produces about 90 percent of the nation’s avocado crop. In fact, there are nearly 5,000 avocado growers in California. Avocados grow primarily in California’s coastal region between San Diego and San Luis Obispo.
Although seven varieties of avocados grow 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. This makes avocados among the least-sprayed fruits or vegetables in terms of pesticide use.
Journey of a California Avocado
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. Then 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 move to a massive picking bin that holds about 900 pounds of avocado. A forklift in the grove moves these bins to a truck that takes you to the packing house. Once you’re at the packing house, you go 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. Then a machine covers you 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.
Next you keep moving along the conveyor belt in an individual pocket until you are just over the designated packing area. 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. Finally, boxed up, you head off in a refrigerated truck to the market.
Sorters select some avocados to be part of a specially ripened group. Those avocados head to a ripening room. They sit at a pre-programmed temperature and receive exposure to natural ethylene gas that makes them ripen faster. After that treatment, they can come to market ready to eat.
Avocado Chocolate Pudding?
And that’s where today’s journey ends. Many thanks to the California Avocado Commission, Pinkerton Ranch, and Mission Avocados for this eye-opening tour. Coming up next, we have 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…