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Nurses Pistachio Orchard

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Nurses Pistachio Orchard started as a retirement plan from nursing for three friends in Southern California. In 1981 Cecilia Garcia, Donna Olson and Jackie Cooper bought 10 acres of land in Paso Robles, 8 miles east of town and about ½ hour north of San Luis Obispo.  The Mediterranean soil, hot and dry days and cool nights of central California are ideal for growing pistachio trees.  When there are seasons without much rain like this year, Pistachio trees are very forgiving because they can tolerate very little water.

It takes 10 years for pistachio trees to produce so this was very insightful planning on their part.  In 1985 they purchased an additional 10 acres of land which they tended to while they continued to work as nurses.  In 1997 the three women retired from nursing and moved onto the land.   In the beginning they hired someone who knew about pistachios to help them run their orchard.  It was a learning experience and instead of picking each nut by hand like they thought, they discovered they needed to lay tarps under the trees and then hit the tree with a mallet causing the nuts to fall on the tarp. The nuts were then gathered in containers, dried and hulled.  Friends and family would come out to help with the work and celebrate the harvest.

Moving tarps from tree to tree during harvest

Bins of harvested nuts ready for processing

The nurses realized that pistachios grown in the Central Valley were harvested one month earlier than Pistachios grown in Paso Robles, which lies between the California Coast and the Central Valley. To get around this problem the nurses decided to just dry their pistachios and not salt or roast them and a new niche for pistachios was born. 

The duties on the farm were shared by everyone.  Jackie took care of much of the planning and organizing, Donna ran the tractor and ATV and reviewed paperwork and Cecilia was in charge of the marketing. 

Nurses Pistachio Orchard became certified organic in 2000 after seeing airplanes spraying pesticides and seeing the variety of sick people in the hospital and knowing what may have put them there.  In 2006 Jackie passed away and in 2010 they sold 10 acres and were left with 6.25 acres of Pistachio orchards plus land for their house and outbuildings.  Currently Donna and Cecilia do the day to day work of the orchard and hire a crew to harvest using mallets and tarps. The pistachios are taken to an organic processor and brought back raw in shell, raw kernels, roasted and salted in shell.   In 2010 they produced 27,0000 lbs from the 6.25 acres and in 2011 they only harvested 10,000 lbs due to the frost in April. You can find their pistachios at local farmers markets and various retail outlets throughout the bay area.

Cecilia on ATV doing orchard chores before harvest


Some interesting facts from the American Pistachio Growers; Pistachios are a cholesterol free snack, a one oz serving of pistachios has as much potassium as an orange and pistachios contain more than 10% of the daily value of dietary fiber and essential vitamins and minerals like B6, thiamin, copper and phosphorus.  Grab a handful for a healthy snack today. Click here to learn more about growing pistachios and discover sweet and savory pistachio recipes.



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