Whether motivated by the environmental benefits of growing and transporting food locally, or by the simple love of fresh ingredients, the interest in local sources of food among Americans is rapidly growing. If checking the labels of origin at your supermarket isn't enough for you, consider taking a farm tour this summer. Many farms, both large and small, offer tours of their agricultural operations (with lots of tasty free samples), and there is probably one near you. Here we present an example plucked right from the pages of Watch It Made: Wiebe Farms in Reedley, California, located in the famous growing region known as the Central Valley.
Wiebe Farms is, specifically, in the San Joaquin Valley, the southern half of the Central Valley. This is among the most productive agricultural regions in the world. Hot summers, moist winters, and rich soil make it ideal for the cultivation of many fruits and vegetables. As you drive through it on ruler-straight roads, lush fields and orchards stretch in all directions.
Since founder Louis Wiebe planted his first orchard in 1956, Wiebe Farms has grown peaches, plums, and nectarines. Starting at the barn, tours show you the fields for a lesson in the cultivation of fruit trees. Grafted from mature specimens, young trees are planted by hand in straight rows. As the trees grow, expert pruners shape them every winter into a form that yields the best amount, quality, and size of fruit. Each generation of trees lives about 15 years. The farm rotates the orchards continually, so you can see all stages of the trees' development.
Harvest time at Wiebe runs from mid-May to mid-September—so now is the prime time for free samples of fruit on the tour! Balanced on their aluminum ladders, the farm's experienced pickers have a keen sense of what fruit is ready for eating and what must still develop. The difference can be too subtle for the untrained eye.
Then technology takes over. Ripe produce moves in bins to the packing shed, which buzzes with machinery and busy staff. After unloading the fruit, employees wash it and treat it to retard decay; graders reject fruit that is not up to USDA standards. A conveyor belt passes the approved produce by a camera that sends images to a computer which sorts it by size and color. Another machine adorns the fruit with PLU (product lookup) stickers. Finally, a conveyor belt whisks the fruit to the packing department. You can contemplate the whole process while you munch on free fresh peaches and nectarines.
This is just one of several farms that you can find interspersed among the factory tours in Watch It Made in the U.S.A. Others exist in New England, Michigan, Washington (state), New Mexico, and even Hawaii. Obviously, summer is often the best time to visit a farm, but many give tours throughout the year. See our book for more information!
Posted By Karen Axelrod Jul 13, 2009