Nearly 1 in 5 households will buy almond milk this year, but have you ever thought where that delicious almond nut comes from? Does it grow in the ground or in a tree? We talk to Christine Gemperle, one of over 3000 Blue Diamond almond growers, about life on the orchard and what makes Blue Diamond Almonds so good.
How long have you been growing almonds & what brought you into the Blue Diamond Almonds family?
My brother and I started our farming operation in 1997 but our father has been farming almonds since the early 1970’s. He and his brother immigrated from Switzerland and started a farming operation here in Turlock, CA.
Erich and I branched off on our own in 1997. We are small, but we like it that way as we can do all the work ourselves which gives us greater control off the crop we produce. It might be hard work, but we love the simplicity. A bonus is that we really get along well, and each have our own skill set which fills out most of our operation’s needs.
California is home to over 80% of the worlds almonds, what makes the region so good?
California is like no other place on this planet. It is the confluence of all the things needed for maximum productivity and efficiency. A place where food should be grown and where I think it would be irresponsible and unwise to not take advantage of this great gift, not just to the region or the country but to the world. For starters the Central Valley has some of the most fertile soils in the world and a climate that allows for year-round growing of food.
The diversity of crops grown here is unparalleled. Although we have our share of climate change issues, drought and water conveyance issues we actually do have a highly complex and functional system of water storage compared with other places in the world. We have knowledge, education and research available to us that enables us to produce the most with the least input.
What makes a good almond?
Love. Just kidding, but not really. I do think the more you love what you do the more likely you are to produce a better product. But generally, I would say a high-quality nut is a good nut, one with good flavor, no chips or insect damage. If you want to go deeper into that and get philosophical you could say that a nut produced responsibly is a good nut. I really do feel that our growers strive to be responsible growers, because in the end being irresponsible is not a good business model - this industry is about long-term commitment, we are lifers.
"Farming is not for the weak hearted, lazy or fickle. It’s a commitment. It’s a lifelong choice. Most of us never retire we just slow down"
What is your favourite thing about growing almonds?
A million things! I love the yearly cycle. I like to say that every year is the same, but every day is different. Our yearly duties are more or less the same because work follows the lifecycle of the trees but each day we may be doing something different depending on what the trees needs might be. Some jobs are monotonous, but the job as a whole is not because the tasks are constantly changing.
I love bloom for obvious reasons, it’s beautiful and smells great - I call it the Promise of Spring when those first buds start to pop. It’s a chance every year to start over and ask yourself what can I do better, where can I improve. You can see the potential and it’s up to you- your work, your choices and your timing. Farming is not for the weak hearted, lazy or fickle. It’s a commitment. It’s a lifelong choice. Most of us never retire we just slow down.
Sustainability is becoming a big factor in consumer behavior these days, what sustainable farming processes do you implement to ensure the environmental impact is minimized?
Where do I start? I guess I can start with the bees. I am a hobbyist beekeeper so that it makes me hyper aware of my practices on the well-being of my bees and pollinators in general (bees are needed to pollinate the almond blossom). In the fall I plant forage in the orchard rows - the mustard in every other row is a great source of food for bees before and after bloom.
"All our farming processes keep in mind the environmental impact... we work very closey with research & governing bodies to constantly improve our practices"
We also use our water very efficiently by working with innovative researchers and investing in technology. We have learned to cut back our water use without compromising our crop size; in fact, during the drought we survived only because of these changes. All our farming processes keep in mind the environmental impact, and because almonds are California’s #1 agriculture export we work very closely with research & governing bodies to constantly improve our practices.
How does it feel having your almonds consumed by millions of people around the world?
Pride. I am proud to be a California Almond Grower because we are known world-wide. I am even prouder to be a Blue Diamond grower because we are respected and loved worldwide for our great tasting products and innovation.
When you are not farming, what do you like to do?
I have way too many hobbies and they all tend to be labor intensive. I love gardening and have a vegetable garden year-round that provides the bulk of our fresh vegetables. I also love cooking and preserving food and do my best to create and preserve tasty food so as not to waste a thing. I have 10-12 beehives and even though I would not claim to be a great beekeeper it is a great hobby, gives me plenty of honey to eat, gift and sale and keeps me forever learning something new.
Erich, my brother, is a quiet artist. By this I mean that no one knows how artistic or talented he is, including himself. He is a phenomenal welder and his attention to detail is impressive. He enjoys building large spaceships that don’t fly. He loves Star Wars, it’s a little out of control but keeps things interesting around here!
All of the almonds that go into Almond Breeze® comes from their growers in California, with over 3000 making up their co-operative. You can try all the delicious ways to use Almond Breeze® at their Breakfast Bar at stand at Balance Festival 2019! (T02&T03).