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Farm to Table and Everything in Between

Quality Packing and Shipping

Quality Packing and Shipping is a family owned growing and packing operation in Stockton, CA. The Bozzano family owns and operates a 54 acre organic cherry orchard and a 45 acre organic olive orchard. Although the trees were planted in 1980 when Jack Bozzano began farming, the orchard is only in its 5th season of organic production.  Jack said it was his wife Nancy, who had a long standing interest in healthy and sustainable food systems, that inspired the transition to organic production 8 years ago.

 

The orchard consists of 6,534 trees; 5,566 Bing, 97 Rainier, and various Black Tartarian, Van, and Larian. Because cherries need to be cross pollinated, each field is primarily comprised of Bing trees interspersed with 12% pollinators. Each of the pollinators are clearly marked with painted trunks so cultivators know not to mix the fruit from those trees in with the harvest from the other varieties. Because the surrounding fields are conventional walnuts, the outer row of cherry trees can not be sold as organic due to the risk of pesticide drift. These trees are marked with white paint to indicate that this fruit cannot be harvested as organic.

 Cherry Outer Row

Jack has faced several challenges since switching to organic production, namely organic pest management and the cost of farm labor. The largest pestilent threats to the cherries are gophers and weeds. If unchecked, gophers can rapidly destroy an entire orchard by gnawing away at the trees’ roots. In order to ameliorate the threat of gophers Jack houses barn owls, a natural gopher predator, in owl boxes around the orchard. Although a single barn owl can eat as many as 155 gophers per year, they also practice regular disking (a method of tilling the upper layer of soil) in order to disturb the gophers’ habitat and break up their underground tunnels. Aphids pose an additional threat; Jack tried introducing mass amounts of lady bugs to combat aphid infestations, but found this method to be insufficient. Now, in addition to using lady bugs, he uses a mild soapy water to spray on any aphid colonies he encounters in the field. The soapy water technique is effective and a common organic pest management technique, but only if one is diligent about checking trees and catching infestations before they grow too out of hand. Jack pointed out that the biggest increase in cost he has faced is that of the farm labor. He may be saving money on pesticides and his nutrient rich clay loam soil does not require much fertilizer, but organic agricultural techniques require significantly more labor to control pests. Instead of simply mass spraying fields with herbicides and pesticides the soil must be tilled more often and compost and mulch must be applied to reduce pests and weeds.

 

Barn owl boxes are placed in the fields to protect against gopher infestations

Barn owl boxes are placed in the fields to protect against gopher infestations

The majority of the products that are sorted and packed in their facility come directly from the Bozzano orchards. However, Quality does a significant amount of packing and shipping for other local growers, particularly those under 50 acres who are too small to operate their own packing and shipping operations. Patrick, the sales agent at Quality, admitted that one of the most rewarding things about operating a packing facility is being able to give small growers the opportunity to make a living off their land.

 

Cherries should be stored at 30-32 degrees for optimal longevity, but because colder fruit is more susceptible to pitting and bruising, the fruit is never fully cooled until after it has been run through all of the sorting and packaging equipment. As a result, when the fruit is brought in from the field it goes through an initial round of hydro-cooling using 55 degree well water to bring down the temperature of the fruit before it goes into the packing shed. The Quality Packing shed is a 27,500 square foot facility equipped with all the tools to clean, sort, and pack the cherries and other product they contract. First the cherries are put through the blower which dries the fruit and removes leaves and debris. Next the cherries are hand sorted on a conveyer belt and rotten fruit is removed before the fruit goes through the sizers. The sizers consist of long rollers with a gap that tapers at the top. Smaller fruit falls through the rollers at the top and as the gap between the rollers increases, the larger fruit falls through the rollers farther down the line. Any cherries that are too small to be packed are segregated and sold to maraschino cherry manufactures and the others are moved along conveyor belts according to their size. The fruit then goes through one more quality check before entering the final hydro-cooler. The fruit is then cooled all the way to 32 degrees before being packed into bags or clamshells to avoid condensation.

 

The farm to table movement elicits images of quaint family farms and pickup truck beds filled with fruit, but does little to illustrate the immense number of human hands and machinery that are involved in the harvesting, cleaning, sorting, prepping, and packaging of your produce. Being able to witness the mechanics and sophistication of the packing and shipping process gives a new light to our modern food systems and new meaning to the utopian image of the farm to table movement.

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