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Food for Thought: California Citrus and Peppers

My previous Food For Thought post was focused on the first part of a two-day farm tour that I was fortunate enough to take part in sponsored by the California Farm Water Coalition. It was an amazing opportunity to learn about California farmers (that’s right, it’s not all palm trees & beaches here!), their growing methods and the importance of our limited water resource. My first post covered the LaBrucherie Farm and a lot of information on how water is sourced to the Imperial Valley. Today, it’s all about some of my favorites – citrus & bell peppers!

Mark McBroom showing us the leaves of the lemon tree and one of their beautiful lemons

We got to speak with Dennis Jensen of Sea View Citrus and a fellow citrus grower, Mark McBroom who informed us of the challenges of growing citrus in California. One of the biggest concerns currently is HLB disease which is carried by the Asian Citrus Psyllid. It has devastated citrus groves in Florida and is starting to affect some groves in California. According to Mark, “Once a tree has contracted the disease, it will die within 5 years and there’s nothing you can do about it.” He has served as part of committee to help keep the disease from spreading.

Dennis Jenson of Sea View

The smell of these flowers was ah-mazing!

Dennis gave us bags to pick our own oranges and we tried some fresh from the tree

Dennis, President of Sea View, gave us a tour of their 580 acres where they grow Minneola tangerines, lemons, jujubes, grapefruit, Valencia oranges, and medjool dates. As we walked through the lemon trees, the smell was so amazing I wanted to bathe in it! The trees were in bloom and the blossoms gave off a lightly sweet, sensual scent that I wanted to bottle up! Jenson told us that each tree produces approximately 740 lemons and they produce for about 30-40 years. Harvest time is from September through January.

Date Palms at Seaview

The canal that serves many of the growers in the Coachella Valley

Like most farms in Southern California, their water comes from the Colorado River. He took us to the nearby canal that serves the area. Many citrus farms use drip irrigation to deliver water directly to the roots of the tree in the most cost effective and efficient manner possible. According to the Department of Water Resources, applied water in agriculture has declined 14.5% from 1967-2007 while production has increased 58.5%. We can expect this efficiency to increase since California farmers have invested $3 billion updating irrigation systems on over 2.6 million acres over the past 10 years.

Ellen May of Prime Time holding one of their beautiful bell peppers grown in the greenhouse. You can see the budding bell pepper growing on the small plant on the right.

On our last day of the tour we got to visit Ellen Way from Prime Time Farms. They specialize in colored bell peppers and chances are, if you’ve purchased a bell pepper that didn’t come from Mexico, it came from their farm! Ellen was a wonderful hostess with a wealth of information. They have two seasons for bell peppers; they first plant in August for a harvest in November through March and then they rotate with counter crops. They use drip irrigation in all their fields and can deliver nutrients as well as water directly through the system. They have figured out systematically exactly how much water and nutrients need to be delivered to each plant so that they can be as efficient as possible.

On the left, bell peppers being grown in the field. On the right, bell peppers grown in the greenhouse.

Ellen also took us to their greenhouse where they can grow peppers in the off season to fill in demand during other times of the year. She sees greenhouse farming as the future of urban farming because of the controlled conditions. They “use” the warm ground water to regulate the temperature in the greenhouse by piping it up through the greenhouse and back down into the ground so it doesn’t actually get used up. Urban areas are putting greenhouses next to factories where the exhaust can keep the area warm.

Date shake and date macaroon cookie – these were soooo good!

After our tour we were treated to date shakes and date macaroons which have to be some of the best cookies I’ve ever eaten! I’m so grateful to the California Farm Water Coalition for treating me to this educational adventure. I had such a wonderful time learning about agriculture and water in California and how important it is to our economy.

Still interested in learning more? Here are a few facts for you and a wonderful info sheet prepared by the California Farm Water Coalition.

For more information on California agriculture and water, please visit the California Farm Water Coalition.

Missed my previous post? Check it out: Food for Thought: Water and the Winter Salad Bowl