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Traveling the I-5 to Cal-Organics

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By Carson Evers

It’s early morning on the bustling San Francisco Produce Market and we are set up to leave for our Cal-O farm tour down to Arvin, California which is just Southeast of Bakersfield. We get into Earl’s car along with Ted, Director of Operations and Mitch, QA IC and we set out on our journey.

It’s a long drive down to Arvin, about 4.5 hours if you don’t hit any traffic but with Earl behind the wheel we figure we make it in just over 4. The drive is split between two main highways: the 101, which we are all familiar with, then head East on the 152 for a short bit were we eventually hit Interstate 5 that takes us the rest of the way south.

Interstate 5 does not have the best reputation for being a scenic or very entertaining drive. It is mostly rows and rows and more rows of crops, orchards, and empty fields. This makes sense since we are cutting through the largest agricultural region in the entire world, the famous San Joaquin Valley. I can relate how all this farm land scenery can seem boring to the average person but when you are in a car with some produce guys a drive down the I-5 is anything but boring.

It was almost a game of guess that crop as we passed through the valley and several different farms. “Almonds trees on the left!” one of us would exclaim.  “Look at the size of those grapevines! You think they are for table grapes or raisins?” “Why are there nets on those trees?” one of us would ask. “Possibly for birds, maybe pests, or to reduce pollination to get seedless citrus?” someone else would explain.  It seemed like all these endless observations would spark a deeper conversation into that particular crop or farming method with each person contributing their own knowledge on said subject.

With the windows down and 80 degree sunny weather shining upon us, the citrus blossom aroma heavy in the air we wrap up our current conversation about the oil history of Bakersfield as we pull into the Grimmway headquarters parking lot. It is a modern looking building that seems like it had been built fairly recently. We stand outside in the parking lot for a while and stretch out and joke that this might be the best day of the year, at least weather wise to visit Arvin. We wait for the slower car of Earl’s people to arrive.

We were lucky, and a bit surprised, that the President of Cal-Organics, Jeff Huckaby, decided to personally give us the tour of the fields and carrot processing facilities. It was obvious pretty quickly that this guy knew every aspect of his operations and that he came from a growing background. It fascinating all of the very clever farming practices/ techniques they had implemented over the years. There was a ton of these farming “hacks”, if you will, but my favorite had to be the clay coated seed technique they used for weed control at the beginning of planting lettuces. Basically they coat the seeds in clay which delays the germination process by just a bit allowing the weeds to germinate and grow before the plant does. This delay allows the growers to go into the fields and burn all the weeds before the lettuce plant pokes its head out of the ground. Not only does this help with weed control but also cuts down on labor costs.

Jeff Huckaby, President of Cal-Organics

We saw it all, gold potato fields, radish fields, green onion fields, and leeks but nothing really held any merit to the engineering mastery we were all about to witness. We drive up to the heavily secure carrot plant facility, get our nametags at the front gate and head over to some large hanger-like buildings. Inside these buildings is the massive machine known as simply the Carrot Harvester. This thing was an absolute unit of engine and metal and completely built from scratch by Cal-Organic AG engineers. But even the Carrot Harvester in all its glory was no match for what was next.

Enter the largest carrot processing facility in the entire world and you’ll never really look at baby peeled carrots in the same way again. The best way I can describe it at first sight is like the amusement park ride the “Log Ride” but for carrots….a sea of carrots. Sorting machines, washing machines, sizing machines, laser guided quality control machines, polishing machines and more gears/ gadgets were all a part of this incredible Carrot Log Ride. I compare it to a log ride because all the carrots are moved by floating in water which is apparently the easiest and most efficient mode of transporting carrots.

Shannon Waldron, Earl’s Organic Produce Buyer

After a long day of touring the fields and the processing facility we headed to the Padre hotel located in downtown Bakersfield. There we had dinner on the outside patio/ rooftop with some of the Cal-O guys. It was a four course meal that was heavily carrot themed…seemed appropriate. After a night of wining and dining we headed on back to the Bay and another car ride full of conversation sparked by window observations.

I have a greater respect for Cal-O after that trip and feel a lot more optimistic about the future of the organic industry. Cal-O understands the importance of taking care of their soil and have seen the benefits from organic farming not only environmentally but also economically. From the words of Jeff, Cal-O’s organic fields yield better, have less pest issues and are much better for the microbial health of the land long term. Jeff was a strong advocate of organics and admits he is a convert from the conventional farming mentality.

Overall it was a great trip, great hosts, great people, more knowledge and yet another personal affirmation to me that we are apart of something special and should feel lucky to be in the business we are in. Make the world organic whether it be small farms or big farms. We are all on the same team.

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