By Kevin McCloskey
If you think Kern County is full of nuts, you don't know the half of it. We are the prime region for California nut production, and California is the No. 1 nut provider in the nation.
And with export markets increasing, nuts show no signs of slowing down. Here are some of the people and places in town leading the way.
• Our state grows 98 percent of the nation’s pistachio crop, and the United States is the second largest producer in the world, after Iran.
• About 99 percent of the nation’s walnuts are harvested from California trees, which account for nearly three-quarters of the world’s walnuts.
• About 99 percent of our national almond harvest comes from the Golden State, and is more than 80 percent of the global supply.
• In 2011, our almond harvest was valued at more than $725 million, our second-highest agricultural commodity, just behind milk.
• Pistachios ranked sixth at $389 million, down slightly from the 2010 record of $533 million.
• About 147,000 acres here are devoted to almonds, and 62,800 acres for pistachios.
SOURCE: American Pistachio Growers, California Walnut Commission, Almond Board of California, 2011 Kern County Agricultural Crop Report
This coming June will mark a new chapter in Kern County agricultural history with our very own nut festival.
It will be modeled after Gilroy’s annual garlic event, and will focus on the popularity of our biggest nut crops, and their health benefits.
It’s no secret that nuts are nutritious. Studies rave about the health benefits of nuts and nut products: Almonds may reduce heart disease; walnuts may improve memory and brain function; pistachios may reduce your cholesterol. Nuts are most nutritious when eaten raw or roasted and unsalted.
The event will be held June 14 and 15 at the Kern County Museum. A portion of the proceeds will go to the nonprofit groups who staff the festival with volunteers.
Terry A. Nachtigall Farms
Fresno-native Terry Nachtigall began his career as an elementary school teacher then switched to agriculture after "marrying the farmer's daughter" and moving to Wasco in 1983, he said.
With 140 acres of almond trees, Nachtigall Farms produces almonds for the wholesale market.
About 22 percent of the almonds grown in California come from Kern County.
"And we are very fortunate that we have the climate to grow them so successfully," Nachtigall said.
There are challenges to growing nuts for a living, including the availability of water for irrigation, the cost of fuel for the equipment and the unpredictable elements of nature, Nachtigall said. One bad windstorm at the wrong time of year can knock blossoms off the trees and substantially reduce the year's harvest yield. But unlike cotton, which Nachtigall farmed for 20 years, almond trees don't have to be replanted every season, and they can continue to produce well into their 20s.
With all the research being done on the health benefits of almonds, Nachtigall said, "It's really fun and satisfying to grow something that's good for you."
Jennifer Rogers Etcheverry
My Husband's Nuts
Jennifer Rogers Etcheverry, also known as "The Farmer's Wife," married into the farming business in 1989. As the Etcheverry's new almond crop matured, the market declined. In a moment of frustration, she said to her husband, "What do I have to do, go sell your nuts for you?"
Jennifer's brother suggested they name the new business "My Husband's Nuts," and the rest is retail history.
Out of a modest 200-acre farm, the Etcheverrys still package and label all products by hand, and are currently selling in 20 states.
The almonds come in four flavors: butter toffee, natural smoke, chili con lemon and onion garlic, as well as raw. Jennifer's focus on the retail side of the business has created for her a side job as a public speaker, and she continues to be amazed and grateful for the support of the people in Kern County, she said.
Yurosek Farms has been growing pistachios in Kern County for more than 25 years. From the tree to your table, Yurosek takes special care of its product every step of the way, including slow roasting the old fashioned way to ensure the quality and flavor of their gourmet pistachios.
In addition to salted and unsalted, Yurosek Farms has three varieties of flavored pistachios: garlic, jalapeno and chili lemon.
Pistachios are one of the heart-healthy nuts that may help to reduce the risk of heart disease. And with 49 nuts per ounce serving, they are a filling and delicious source of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
As an added benefit, shelling and eating pistachios one by one forces you to slow down while eating, and feel full faster. Nutritionists call this the "pistachio principle."