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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.
almond emoji
News Article
// Lifestyle

New Ohio State University Research Confirms Importance of Almond Board’s Honey Bee Best Management Practices

New research published in the journal Insects confirms a key recommendation, and widely adopted farming practice, from the Almond Board of California’s Honey Bee Best Management Practices (BMPs). Designed to protect honey bee health, the Bee BMPs are a set of guidelines for everyone involved in the pollination process to ensure almond orchards are a safe and welcoming place for honey bees while balancing the need to protect the developing crop. With support from the Almond Board, study author and Ohio State University researcher Reed Johnson investigated the cause of reported hive losses in the spring of 2014, focusing on the interaction of pest control materials applied in almonds and bee health. “Honey bees are essential to almond production,” said Bob Curtis, pollination consultant and retired director of Agricultural Affairs for the Almond Board of California. “Every almond we eat exists because a honey bee pollinated an almond blossom so it’s in farmers best interest to keep them safe. Our livelihood depends on it.” The specific practices in question revolve around using insecticides during bloom, something the BMPs recommend avoiding as farmers can use alternative treatment timings to adequately control damaging pests outside of the bloom period. The newly published Ohio State research validates this practice, one that almond farmers began instituting well before the results of this research were in, as protective of bee health. In fact, according to data gathered from farms assessed through the California Almond Sustainability Program, 97 percent report following all BMP recommendations during almond bloom.[1] Widespread change like this does not happen overnight. Upon the BMPs publication in October 2014, Almond Board staff, beekeepers, researchers, and others launched a substantial communications effort including a wide array of presentations to farmers and other pollination stakeholders. The California almond community has funded more honey bee health research than any other crop group.[2] Since honey bee health was made a strategic research priority of the Almond Board of California in 1995, the California almond community has supported 120 research projects to address the five major factors impacting honey bee health – varroa mites, pest and disease management, genetic diversity, pesticide exposure and balancing the need to protect both bees and the almond crop, and access to forage and nutrition. Seven new bee research studies were funded in 2018 with a commitment of $579,000 to improving honey bee health. Given their essential role in pollination, almond farmers have a deep, vested interest in protecting honey bee health. The bees benefit from this partnership too. Just like almonds are a nutritious snack for us, almond pollen is very nutritious for honey bees, providing all 10 of the essential amino acids their diets require. Bee hives routinely leave stronger after visiting during almond bloom.[3] To learn more about how we’re supporting these essential pollinators, visit Almonds.com/Bees. [1] California Almond Sustainability Program. August 2018. [2] Gene Brandi. Vice President, American Beekeeping Federation. [3] Ramesh Sagili. Department of Horticulture, Oregon State University.
almond blossom
News Article
// About the Almond Industry

Josette Lewis Joins Almond Board of California as Director of Agricultural Affairs

MODESTO, Calif. — The Almond Board of California (ABC) welcomes Josette Lewis, PhD, to the organization as new director of Agricultural Affairs. In her position, Lewis will focus on the development, funding and strategy of ABC’s research program. Lewis most recently served as associate vice president of Sustainable Agriculture at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Lewis holds a PhD in molecular biology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and her career in agricultural research and policy spans the government, academic, nonprofit and tech-based corporate sectors. Prior to EDF, she was associate director of the World Food Center at the University of California, Davis. Lewis began her career at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). She currently serves on advisory committees for the James Beard Foundation and the International Life Sciences Institute, and has served on an advisory committee for the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. “My colleagues and I are thrilled to welcome Josette Lewis to the ABC team. She not only complements our existing skill sets and experience — she adds many new and valuable dimensions,” said Richard Waycott, president and CEO, ABC. “Her acumen and expertise will serve the California almond industry very well as we navigate the challenges and opportunities that lie before us.” Research is an important area of focus for the Almond Board as it fuels key initiatives like the Almond Orchard 2025 Goals, which set industry-wide targets in the areas of water efficiency, zero waste, environmentally friendly pest management and air quality. In her new role, Lewis will oversee ABC’s multi-million dollar annual investment in research projects exploring next-generation farming practices including optimal use of everything almond orchards grow. “My career has centered on the interface of research and action — interpreting research findings to create solutions that people can use,” Lewis said. “Building on the strong legacy of Bob Curtis, I look forward to advancing almond research that ultimately puts knowledge, tools and practices in the hands of growers, processors, policy makers and other important audiences. I am fascinated by almond production and excited to join the dynamic group at ABC.” Robert Curtis retired in 2018 after spending more than 45 years directing agricultural affairs at ABC. Since 1973, almond farmers and processors have invested $80 million in research through the Almond Board to improve understanding of almonds' impact on human health, ensure food quality and safety, and improve farming practices while minimizing environmental impacts.
Josette Lewis
News Article
// About the Almond Board
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