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Inside the California Almond Bloom | Fast Facts on Almonds and the 'Valley Snow'

From February to early March, the Central Valley sees a flurry of pink and purple petals come to life for the almond bloom.   Author: Eric Escalante   ESCALON, Calif. — Almond bloom season brings about a stunning display of pink and purple petals in orchards all around Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties.   When the bloom ends, these gorgeous petals fall and become what many refer to as the "valley snow."   Here are some fast facts about California's almonds and the almond bloom:   1. 90 percent of California almond orchards are family owned   Many almond farms in California are family owned and operated - about 90 percent, according to the Almond Board of California.   In Escalon, ABC10 visited a 40-acre orchard, which dates back to 1965, while the bloom was at its peak. The orchard was the result of an effort from Fred Veenstra and his brother-in-law, who planted their orchard's first generation of almond trees.    Even though Veenstra isn't around today, his granddaughter Danielle Veenstra has been around to continue the family work with the orchards.    2. "Cool, wet winters" and "warm, hot summers"   "That’s what California offers and that’s what almond trees need,” Veenstra said.   In addition to great soil and water, almonds benefit from the kind of climate California offers, which is why California grows 80 percent of the world's almonds.   Freezing temperatures aren't good for the crop during periods like the almond bloom.   “You can’t grow them in Wisconsin or Arizona or any place where you would potentially have that type of weather,” Veenstra added.   3. Different almonds for different occasions   According to Veenstra, about 40 percent of the almond industry almonds are "nonpareil" varieties. These are the snack nuts that have the most desirable taste, look, and texture.   Other varieties are grown and can often end up as a flavored snack nut, like those with Wasabi and Soy seasoning. Other varieties like the Butte-Padre produce a smaller nut that you'll probably find hidden inside a Hershey's Kiss.   A lot of varieties are grown but all are put to their best possible use. In Veenstra's orchard, she has at least three different varieties of almonds, which also helps pollination.   4. "They [professionals] can make almonds into anything"   Almonds can be made into marzipan, butter, flour, and a "milk." One of the more surprising creations Veenstra ever saw was an almond-based meatball.   “I’ve been on some of our tours with food professionals, and they can make almonds into anything,” Veenstra said.   The coproducts, like the almond shells, have been used an animal bedding but it also has the potential to be used as a reinforcement agent for plastics. Research is being done to these shells, where they get burned in the absence of oxygen and made into a charcoal-like powder, to help make recycled plastics stronger.   5. The "valley snow"   Bees collect pollen and nectar from blooming almond trees and rub against other flowers, pollinating them. Inside the flower, you get what will grow into a harvest ready almond around August.   “Every single almond that we eat is because a bee pollinated whatever flower that was on almond tree,” Veenstra said.   To get the valley snow, those beautiful pink and purple petals have to fall off the tree. Some varieties bloom and fall later than others, but they eventually create the 'valley snow' when they fall to the ground.    
In The News
// About the Almond Board, Almond Bloom and Bees

Beautiful Drone Video of Northern California Almond Blossoms | Bartell's Backroads

In Northern California, it's the time of year when almond trees come to life, and there are a lot of them, about 80% of the world supply comes from here. As John Bartell discovered, the blooms look amazing and the smell is something you have to experience yourself to appreciate.   Author: John Bartell Updated: 5:06 PM PST March 5, 2019   ESCALON, Calif. — It's almond blossom season in Northern California, and that means your Facebook and Instagram feeds will be stacked with flower-filled selfies. It’s a magical time, but it’s also a very important biological event.   Around Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties, the almond bloom almost always starts the week of St. Valentine's Day.   Danielle Veenstra grew up on her family’s 40-acre almond orchard in Escalon. She says it’s a romantic time of year, but not necessarily for humans. Honey bees are actively out pollinating each tree.    "Every almond that we eat is because of these bees, so, if we didn't have bees, we wouldn't have almonds," said Veenstra. The bees in her orchard were put out at the beginning of February and will stay through March.   Almond trees need bees to move pollen from one flower to the next, and, to make sure that happens, the almond tree attracts the bees with vibrantly colored flowers and sweet smelling nectar.   The bees work fast. Within a matter of weeks, nearly every branch on every tree will be pollinated, and the orchard floor will be littered with beautiful pink and purple peddles.   "When they start dropping their peddles like this, you can actually see an almond inside," Veenstra added.   The almonds will be ready to harvest by mid-August but only if the flower buds don't freeze.   Aside from the yearly display, the blossoms also are a reminder of how important almonds are to our economy. About 80% of the worlds almonds grow in California, according to Veenstra. The bloom may be beautiful but it’s also one of our most important crops.
In The News
// About the Almond Industry, Almond Bloom and Bees

The Biggest Misconceptions and Myths About Almonds and Almond Farming

by Daniel Falconer Female First   There seems to be a trend in the media of big press going after the latest trends. Almonds have been popular for a few years now, and whilst they're loved by people across the globe, that hasn't stopped them from facing the glare of the critical spotlight. Whilst they're certainly not perfect (what is?), our recent trip to California and visit to almond blooms has really opened our eyes to the reality behind almond farming. Here, we take a look at some of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to the powerful little nut...   Growing almonds uses more water than any other crop   Dairy and livestock are actually considered to be far more water-intensive than crops such as almonds. The nuts (or seeds, if you want to be pedantic) actually use the same or similar levels of water as other California fruit and nut trees.   In fact, by 2025 the almond community have teamed up with the Almond Board of California to make a pledge, committing to reduce the amount of water they use to grow each pound of almonds by 20%. This is on top of the 33% reduction of water being used already successfully implemented!   Bees get nothing from working on almond blooms   Without bees, there would be no almonds. It's that simple! So, it's understandable that some may think farmers are bringing in bees simply for their own profit. What they fail to understand however, is that the first thing Californian bees gain nutrients from at the start of the year is almonds! The blooms provide all 10 of the essential amino acids that bees need to survive.   Almonds can be grown anywhere   Hmm, technically, but not as proficiently! There are only five places on the planet with the perfect Mediterranean climate that allows almond trees to thrive. California is one of the five, with central Chile, the Mediterranean Basin, the Western Cape of South Africa and the Western Cape of South Australia also providing a faultless location for growth.   Almond farmers are selfish   There's a misconception surrounding almond farmers that they are simply in this business for the money, and care about nothing else. After meeting female grower Christine Gemperle, as well as second and third generation father and son team Jim and Jason Jasper, we can categorically state that this is not the case. They are respectful, family-oriented hard workers who aren't afraid of getting their hands dirty. They live and breathe their businesses and the community, and really light up when talking about what they love.   Growing almonds leads to huge scales of waste   The California almond community have made a commitment to achieve zero waste in orchards by 2025, by putting everything that's grown to optimal use. Not only are the almonds taken from their hulls and shells, but those hulls and shells are also used in a number of beneficial ways rather than being sent straight to landfill. Researchers at the USDA-ARS Lab in Albany, California are currently experimenting with new ways to use hulls and shells, even showing us on a visit a piece of revolutionary plastic that was created using 40% almond materials!
In The News
// About the Almond Industry, Almond Bloom and Bees

Meeting the Female California Almond Farmer Who's Grabbing the Stereotype by the Nuts

by Daniel Falconer Female First   "When I go to conferences, there's never a queue for the women's bathroom!" So says female almond grower and hobbyist beekeeper Christine Gemperle, for whom farming is in her blood. As the daughter to a man who has been farming almonds since the early 1970s, Christine grew up around hard work and labour, and so when she got the opportunity to set up her own operations alongside her brother Erich in 1997, she jumped at the chance.   From an outsider's point of view, the world of farming is thought to be heavily dominated by men. Whilst Christine's comments about conferences may prove that to be true, there are incredible women just like her who are paving their own way in the industry, and inspiring others to do the same.   We joined Christine at her almond blooms in California, where she explained: "[About eight years ago] I started going to the conferences and getting involved in the industry and initially I was a little bit overwhelmed. I was like, ‘God, it’s all guys here!’; I felt like people maybe overlooked me and thought I didn’t know what I was talking about, and the truth is I didn’t know what I was talking about! But, I caught on really quick.   "Number one thing – never think you know everything, because then you can’t learn anything at all. So I took that perspective and went forward and I would just go in and ask people anything, I didn’t care, I just wanted the information. I think they respected that."   Despite her initial trepidation, Christine says that she is treated well by the majority of men in her field.   “It’s a really great industry to be in as a female,” she says. “I find that a lot of these guys in this business are pretty enlightened when it comes to it, and respectful, absolutely. I’m proud of our boys. There’s always gonna be the ‘good old boys’, but they’re like 70, and you deal with that!”   Of the “enlightened” men however, Christine adds: “They’re pretty progressive. I don’t know if that’s because it’s California – we’re a little bit different out here – but there’s a lot of women in our industry. The chairman of the Almond Board is a woman! Gosh, go through the offices at the Almond Board, there are tonnes of women, they’re working and they all come from farming families and they are very well-educated. “That’s another thing in this business. As a female, usually the women that are really the standouts in the business are incredibly well-educated women. It’s nice to be a part of that, I have to say.”   Christine also recognises that without bees, there would be no almonds. That's why, alongside her work as a full-time grower, she's a hobbyist beekeeper.   Having just finished potting up her last jars of honey for the season, Christine explained how she and other farmers like her work with the bees to make the most out of what both have to offer to one another. The first thing that bees consume in California at the start of the year is almonds, which provide all 10 of the essential amino acids that the friendly little helpers need! It's a brilliant cycle of giving and getting back, and so growers such as Christine do their all to ensure the good health of their miniature workers.   "I look at the relationship between beekeepers and almond farmers as symbiotic in many ways," Christine says. "Being a hobbyist beekeeper as well as an almond farmer enables me to see issues from both sides. Over the years, we have changed our farming practices and planted forage to promote bee health and nutrition because, at the end of the day, stronger hives can produce bigger crops."   The number of honey bee hives across the United States is currently at a 20-year high, though beekeepers are still experiencing some significant in-season losses. The Almond Board of California is continuing to fund research into delving deeper into these areas, helping to combat the threats that bees are facing.
In The News
// About the Almond Board, Almond Bloom and Bees

Who needs Chanel No. 5 when you have almond blossoms to caress your senses?

By: DENNIS WYATT   Get ready for nirvana.   In less than a week the sweetest days of the year will arrive.   They will come with the bees — millions of bees, tens of millions of bees.   It is part of one of nature’s most blessed unions. Bees zip through nearly naked almond branches to visit small buds just starting to split through the soft wood. In a matter of a short time those buds will open. Sometimes it seems to happen overnight. Skeleton orchards start to shiver after losing the last rays of semi-warmth as the sun slips behind the Diablo Range as winter uses the chill of night to try and prolong nature’s slumber.   But then as the sun rises over the snow draped Sierra in the east the light of a new day backlights the most glorious sight ever created by Mother Nature — billions upon billions of delicate white and pink almond blooms bursting everywhere you look.   Spring doesn’t simply arrive in the countryside around Manteca and Ripon. It bursts open seemingly all at once but not in an in-your-face way. Rather it caresses the senses.   Feast your eyes on delicate creations that make cherry blossoms seem rough by comparison. Touch the delicate beauties and you are suddenly as nervous as a guy holding a newborn baby for the first time. They are so soft and new that you fear you may hurt them.   But then the biggest treat comes along. The bees have been busy. As the mercury inches up ever so slightly toward the magical 70 degree mark, the sun’s warmth gently bakes the blossoms creating a delightful scent that is more intoxicating than Chanel No. 5 announcing the arrival of a sweetheart. The air you breathe is filled with delightful reminders that the cold and sometimes gray days of winter were worth every second.   But it isn’t until night falls when the warmth of the mid-February day slips away and a slight coolness slips over the land that the real treat begins. On the perfect night, there is an ever-so gentle breeze. The steady stream of air washing ashore from over the Pacific Ocean makes its way across the Altamont Pass and through the meandering Delta to nudge the scent along as a gentle caressing breeze makes its way through orchard after orchard. It is best this time of year to leave your bedroom window ajar before you retire for a late winter slumber even if you still need to bundle against the cold.   That’s because there is not a more glorious way to drift off to sleep than taking in breath after breath of the sweetest perfume ever concocted — almond blossoms in bloom. As your body goes into sleep mode and your mind drifts away they help create the sweetest dreams of the year. And if you happen to awake in the middle of the night, your senses led only by your nose make you feel as if you are in Mother Nature’s arms bundled up with covers as you smell the sweet scent of rebirth. And, if you are lucky, the fragrant elixir will wake you in the morn. Who needs to smell the coffee when you can inhale the soft fragrance of almond blossoms?   It is little wonder millions of bees have no issue with being as busy as a bee. How can it be work when you get to zip from one almond blossom to another getting intoxicated with the sweetest smell on earth?   Once you’ve taken in the first act of spring in the Northern San Joaquin Valley it is easy to understand how insects that can hurt so much when they sting can produce such a sweet golden treat that we call honey.   The days of February are the days that try the souls of almond growers. While we revel in the return of almond blossoms, growers fret about rain and high wind striking at the most inopportune time.   The early almond varieties started popping blooms here and there a week ago. Almond growers will tell you this is a week ahead of time. Mother Nature, if she could talk, would likely laugh at such a statement knowing full well that almond blossom time starts always on the terms of the brave buds that give the first signal that the glorious symphony of smells and sights she is cueing up is about to fill the countryside with a blazing celebration of life.   It’s a spectacle that makes the great works of arts such as Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” look drab and mechanical.   Nothing flows as free or inspires as much as what the almond blossoms and what follows brings to the valley.   Forget about waking up and smelling the roses. That’s for people landlocked by asphalt and concrete. Get out and savor the almond blossoms.   Drive south or east from Manteca in the coming weeks and roll down your windows. You won’t be disappointed. Better yet park the car, get out, and walk along an orchard’s edge that is in full bloom. Unless you are unfortunate enough to be cursed with an allergy to almond blossoms, there is nothing that man has yet to bottle that can bring as much bliss to your nose.   This is the time of year I trade my 3 to 4 mile jog for  a 6 to 8 mile excursion into the countryside heading down orchard lined country roads such as Manteca Road, Sedan Avenue, Alice Avenue and Veritas Road not as much to exercise my lungs and heart as it is to lift my soul.   In fields where growers still let grass grow in almond orchards, the dew moistened blades you jog pass that form green stripes between rows of white and pink blossoms creates a delightful scent of its own as the month slips closer to March.   It’s a decadent treat.   Almond blossom time also heralds the start of an endless parade of blooms and scents that the Northern San Joaquin Valley’s Mediterranean climate coaxes out of some of the most fertile soil in the world.   By the time March arrives and almond blossoms have reached their crescendo, Mother Nature unleashes the final performance of the production that will lead to the shaking of several billion pounds of nuts up and down the Central Valley when summer draws to a close.   The sweet scent is waning as delicate white and pink blossoms start softly falling to the ground. The “Manteca Snow” — or “Ripon Snow” if you live in the self-proclaimed Almond Capital of the World — is the final act that brings down the curtain on the almond blossom season coating the earth with a gentle blanket of blossoms.   Enjoy what is about to unfold in our backyard.   It’s heaven on earth.
In The News
// Almond Bloom and Bees

Almond Farm of the Future Envisioned as Doing More With Less

By STEVE SCHOONOVER   MODESTO — The almond orchard of the future will use less water and pesticide, and generate less waste and harvest-time dust, if goals announced Thursday morning by the Almond Board of California are met.   The goals are voluntary, but according to Almond Board Chair Holly King, “As a grower, each goal solves a problem or challenge, and creates an economic benefit.”   “We try to be a good steward of the land by doing more with less — less inputs, less applications, less trips into the field, obviously less water,” said Brian Wahlbrink, a Stanislaus County farmer and chair of the Almond Board’s Harvest Workgroup.   He described the goals as a win-win: cost-savings at the ranch level while helping the environment.   The target year is 2025, and by then the board said it is seeking to create a sustainable future for almond farming that is ecologically sound, economically sound and socially equitable. Goals of that plan include:   WATER: A 20 percent reduction in water use, on top of the 33 percent reduction that has already been achieved in the past few years. That’s technologically achievable, according to Almond Board President and CEO Richard Waycott during a media call. “We have an innovative industry,” he said. Use of micro-irrigation, ground sensors and drones to make irrigation more precise were cited as ways to hit the goal   ZERO WASTE: The almond nut only amounts to 30 percent of the material produced in an orchard, with the rest being hulls, shells and woody biomass. There are already markets for those, and the plan calls for a “broad array of innovation” to make sure “everything in the orchard is put to an optimal use.”   CHEMICALS: A 25 percent reduction in pest control chemicals, using integrated pest management and an increasing number of “non-chemical tools” that have been developed.   DUST: A 50 percent reduction in the amount of dust generated during harvest. Part of the current harvest technique involves vacuuming up the nuts off the dirt floor of the orchard by a machine that expels clouds of dust. New technology is part of the solution, “but we need to be looking at the way we harvest,” said Waycott.   The Almond Board is a nonprofit funded by assessments on 6,800 growers and processors in California under a grower-approved federal marketing order. The board develops markets for the nuts and conducts research and promotes best practices for the industry.   It said it has spend $80 million on research since 1973. That includes 210 separate research projects toward more efficient water use and 120 on bee health.   Eighty percent of the almonds grown in the world are grown in California, according to the board.
In The News
// About the Almond Board, About the Almond Industry

This Almond Day, Nothing Pairs Better Than Almonds and Emojis

MODESTO, Calif. – On Saturday, February 16, almond lovers will crunch into their favorite heart-healthy snack in celebration of Almond Day. Almonds provide a winning combination of six grams of protein and four grams of fiber in one serving, ensuring that anyone can own their day—no matter if it involves running to the gym or munching between meals. Although tiny, this snack packs such a powerful punch that it’s time to give this plant-based powerhouse what it rightfully deserves—its very own Almond Emoji.    To give almond lovers a way to transcend language barriers, California Almonds created an Almond Emoji petition, just in time for Almond Day, that allows almond fans to band together to show their love for this indispensable snack. By signing their names on the petition, almond lovers can join the thousands of individuals who have already pledged their support for an Almond Emoji. Almonds and emojis are the all-star pair this Almond Day, and no one knows perfect pairings better than registered dietitian duo Jessica Jones and Wendy Lopez of Food Heaven Made Easy. From almonds and dark chocolate to their favorite strawberry, whipped cream and almond dessert, Jones and Lopez have created five amazing pairings that everyone will enjoy crunching on this Almond Day while pledging their support for the Almond Emoji.  “We love almonds because they’re the perfect combination of great nutrition and incredible taste,” said Jones. “In addition to their protein, fiber, calcium and Vitamin E, they’re also a versatile, shelf-stable food that can be thrown in a bag or purse for easy snacking while on the go,” said Lopez. “This incredible snack deserves its own Almond Emoji for Almond Day!” California Almonds’ social media fans can spread the word and share the love for their favorite snack this Almond Day by using the hashtag #AlmondEmoji. For snack ideas, nutrition information and the Almond Emoji petition, visit http://www.almonds.com/consumers/emoji-signup.     About Jessica Jones, R.D. and Wendy Lopez, R.D. Jessica Jones, M.S., RDN, CDE and Wendy Lopez, M.S., RDN, CDE are Registered Dietitian Nutritionists, Certified Diabetes Educators and co-founders of Food Heaven Made Easy (@foodheavenshow), a one-stop shop for delicious and nutritious living with over 145,000 followers from around the globe. Named New & Noteworthy by iTunes, their popular Food Heaven Podcast provides evidence-based practical nutrition guidance listeners can trust. The dynamic duo also co-authored the 28-Day Plant-Powered Health Reboot in 2017, a mouthwatering cookbook that helps people upgrade their diet with delicious recipes. Through their platform, Wendy & Jess work with national brands such as Quaker Oats, Sunsweet, The Almond Board of California, Mighties Kiwi, the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, and other brands, to develop plant-based recipes and curated multimedia content.
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