Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How Your Nuts Get to Market

Today my son and I traveled to Selma, to tour the Poindexter Walnut Plant. Wow. Wow. I asked if it was well marked from the road. They laughed and told me, "There are no signs, but you'll know." They were right. We did.

Although our nuts arrived on Saturday and Monday, I'd called early enough to see if I could watch them being graded. They had already graded the first batch, but held the second until our arrival.

This is what was waiting for us. First, the nuts are sized, using the plastic guide to determine Jumbo, Large, Medium, or Baby. Most of ours were jumbo. yay! (If they fall through a hole, they are the next size smaller.)

These are the nuts that have already been cracked and graded. Most of them are very good, but at the bottom you can see one with an insect, and another that has a touch of mold. On the whole, the batch is very good. The lighter the color, the higher the price.

While we toured the plant, the shelled nuts were left with this woman, who cracked them and sorted them by hand. Each sorting tray holds 100 nuts, and yes, that is a pizza box that she's using as her base of operation.

Our nuts will be sold in the shell. This is the area where they bag them. The ladies are sorting out any nuts that are broken or unappealing. The rest go up the conveyor belt, to the bagging machine.

The team of four men work together to bag and seal the nuts. It is amazing how quickly they are bagged and tagged.

These are ready to go. If you look closely at the tag, you might notice that they are headed to Turkey. I have to trust my guide, because I couldn't read the tag myself.

If I understand correctly, nuts that go to Turkey to not have any extra processing. When they get there, bags are distributed to families. The families crack the nuts by hand and then return the meat for sale to other countries. Can you imagine such a livelihood? I can't, it's as simple as that.

This machine was also in the in-shell area. It's a size sorting machine. At the top you can see a long barrel made with holes that the nuts will fall through. The first section kicks out the babies, the next medium, then the large, and finally the jumbos fall into the last container.

I'm not sure what size these are, I just took the picture of the bin with the most nuts in it.

Here is a small number of the shipping crates. These California walnuts are sold around the world. wow.

The next building held the sheller. This machinery cracks the nuts, spitting the meat in one direction and the hulls and debris in another. That's Mike, our tour guide.

Here you can see the nuts coming out one side of the machine,

And here the hulls fly out the other.

The sheller does an amazing job. Look at all that nut meat! I do see a single shell in there, which will be pulled out by hand before it is bagged for sale.

I believe these ladies are quality control, again watching the nuts go by, making sure nothing unwelcome is among them.

This is a one pound bag of nuts, destined for a grocery store.

I didn't take pictures of two other areas, one was the fumigation room, the other was outside. Shelled nuts that go to South Korea or Australia or any number of countries require the nuts be fumigated with Methyl Bromide. It takes 24 hours to treat them, before bagging.

The alternative is to place them in bins outside, wrapped in black plastic tarps for 8 days. This probably sounds a bit sketchy, but I'm typing this from memory. I did not take notes. I was too busy taking pictures. The point of tarping or fumigation is to prevent any insect contamination to the importing country.

This fork lift is moving bags of nuts into cold storage. Once inside, the entire door closes from the roof, sealing in the cold. There is a regular door inside the fork lift door, that we walked through. To raise the door for the fork lift, there was a string hanging from the ceiling. I'd call it a bell pull, but it was just a string.

I thought the next was the most impressive piece of machinery at the plant. It is a pasteurizer. It is currently the ONLY one in existence/use that is certified to pasteurize walnuts. There are a few more coming online at a couple of other walnut plants sometime in the future, but Poindexter has this one, and uses it.

The nuts go in the front of the machine, which is then filled with dry steam heated to 88 degrees centigrade. A vacuum system sucks out any condensation.

This is the guts of the machine. You can see it if you walk to the left side of that stainless steel and peek around the side.

When the pasteurization process has been completed, the nuts come out this door. Mike was very clear that food safety is job number one, and their investment in this particular equipment shows that it's not just talk.

In the time it took us to tour the plant, the nut-cracking lady was able to crack this many of our nuts. These are the ones shown in the shell, in one of my first pictures.

Here is the final result. Most of them are very large, and very light color, which is good. Two showed insect presence. boo. One was a shriveled nasty looking thing, some were darker than desired, but for the most part? The Poindexters said that they were happy with the quality of our nuts.

"You've done a very good job farming!" Ahh, thank you! Actually, the credit goes to Olson/Pratt, our farmers, along with our boys Andrew and Adam, who did the irrigating. Pete and I? We just paid the bills and said, "Do what needs to be done, and thank you so much for teaching us along the way!"

Truly, this has been an education!


Sara Kelly said...

Really delicious tour. How about some great walnut recipes?

loralie said...

very interesting process