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Patrick’s Winter Trip to Chile

Patrick Stewart, Earl’s Sales Manager recently spent a week visiting growers in Chile where it’s summer during our winter.  Chile lies along the western coast of South America at opposite ends of the equator of the United States and stretches over 2,700 miles long, the equivalent of going from Southern California to British Columbia, Canada. It is never more than 110 miles wide at any point and runs from the world’s most arid desert in the north to the Antarctic Circle in the south.  In between, the land passes through forests, mountains, valleys, volcanoes, lakes, glacier fields and a wide range of climate zones.  California and Chile have very similar coastal, central valley and mountain climates with a combination of warm and cool seasons.  Some farms are agricultural trusts in Chile and protect the land by maintaining the wildlife habitat, building small creeks to divert water to the plants, grow poplar trees to use as windbreaks and flowers for the bees to pollinate. 

Patrick, Nico, growers, Rene SOF and Diedre East Coast Rep for CF Fresh

Patrick flew into the capital of Santiago and then drove 4 hours south to the city of Chillan in the Bio Bio region where organic blueberries, apples and cherries are mainly grown and the rainfall is abundant, temperatures are cooler than in the north and the summer mornings are foggy.  First stop was a cherry orchard and as far as the eye could see were rows and rows of cherry trees topped with 3 wires affixed with plastic pulled the length of each row.  At any hint of rain the plastic is pulled over the trees to keep the water off of the cherries.  If the cherries get wet they are prone to splitting. Cherries are in season from November to December and sometimes into early January.

Next on the road was Agricola Santa Isabel , one of the many apple growers CF Fresh works with in Chile.  By training the trees to grow side by side they can grow more apples.  Chilean apple picking season begins in February and ends in April. Nico Simian, an energetic Chilean-American agronomist, manages the day-to-day operations of the farm.  Nico built a greenhouse as a training ground, to feed his workers and as organic seed bank.  The Chileans grow organically mostly for export and not much organic is found locally.  The labor force is primarily domestic and the workers either live on or adjacent to the farm.  Farming is a lifestyle, not just a job and most workers have their own gardens.

Patrick ended his trip by visiting Rene Beaujanot from South Organic Fruits Chile.  Rene is not only an apple grower but part of a larger group that opened their own apple and blueberry grower owned packing shed.  CF Fresh has some of their grower apples packed at the SOF shed and also may buy some of the SOF apples.

Blueberries were in the process of being sorted in the shed during Patrick’s visit. Once on a conveyor belt they are moved through a sizer with a minimum size requirement.  Anything smaller falls into a collection area below and are usually sold as a processing blueberry for juice, jam or are frozen. The blueberries that make it through the sizer are weighed for clamshell packaging. The machine stops when the right weight is reached and the blueberries are dropped down into the clamshells to be packaged.  Blueberries are expensive because the blueberry plant can take 3 to 4 years of maturation before producing fruit along with the cost for international freight.  Blueberries will arrive from Chile through March until the season picks up again domestically.

Chile is one of the main countries that supply us during the winter with the fruit we are accustomed to buying all year long.   It is nice to know if I want to make a blueberry cobbler in the winter I can!

High density planting of apples so apples grow on the outside of the tree

Poplar trees as windbreaks

Cherry trees with plastic rain protection system

Organic blueberry acrerage Chillan

Blueberries coming off field to be sorted and packaged

Local Market

Valparaíso- primary port for apples

 

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