Posts Tagged: Maxwell Norton
Pomegranates have been cultivated since ancient times, and are referred to poetically in texts ranging from the Bible to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. They are unusual among California fruit. Tough, leathery skin protects bright red, tart-sweet juice sacs, called arils, which are separated in groups by white spongy tissue. Inside each sac is an edible seed which contains fiber and unsaturated fat. The red pulp is a good source of potassium and vitamin C.
Data about the scope of California commercial pomegranate production is hard to find. USDA stopped collecting pomegranate data in 1989 and CDFA groups pomegranates with kumquats, loquats, persimmons, prickly pears and other unusual fruit. UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Maxwell Norton said county pesticide registration data indicate that five Central Valley counties – Kern, Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare – have about 35,000 acres planted to pomegranate. About 500 acres are planted in other counties combined. Kern County has the highest production with about 17,000 acres producing fruit valued at $115 million per year.
- Ambrosia – Huge fruit, pale pink skin, similar to Wonderful
- Eversweet – Very sweet. Red skin, clear juice. Good for coastal areas
- Granada – Deep crimson fruit color. Matures early, but needs heat
- Ruby Red – Matures late, but not as sweet or colorful as Wonderful.
- Wonderful – Large, deep red fruit, large, juice red kernels. Small seeds.
For eating or juicing, select pomegranates at grocery stores by weight, not color. The heavier the pomegranate, the more juice inside. Some consumers are deterred from purchasing and eating the raw fruit because they believe it’s difficult to prepare. UC Master Food Preserver Geri Scalzi gives five simple steps that make eating fresh pomegranate easy:
- Cut off the top half an inch below the crown. Four to six sections of pomegranate arils divided by white membrane will be visible.
- Score the leathery skin with a sharp knife along each section.
- Break the pomegranate apart along the score lines. This can be done under water to prevent squirting pomegranate juice, which tends to stain clothing.
- Loosen arils and membranes and drop them into water. The arils will sink, the membranes will float. Skim off the membranes with a slotted spoon.
- Pour the arils and remaining liquid through a strainer.
The pulpy seed sacs are then ready to be eaten plain, tossed in salads, stirred into yogurt or sprinkled over cereal.
For more information on pomegranate production, attend a public meeting at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, 9240 S. Riverbend Ave., Parlier, from 10 a.m to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29. The following topics will be covered:
- Insect pest update, integrated pest management entomologist Walt Bentley
- Black heart disorder and tree decline issues, UC Davis plant pathologist Themis Michailides
- Interesting selections in the USDA germplasm collection, USDA national clonal germplasm representative Jeff Moersfelder
- Irrigation, fertigation & nitrogen use efficiency with drip irrigation, Claude J. Phené, USDA-ARS
- Summary of acreage trends, Merced County farm advisor Maxwell Norton
Central Valley strawberry stands are expected to open soon, and if the next few weeks remain dry, as expected, it looks to be an excellent production year, report UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors in Fresno, Merced and Sacramento counties. One stand in Fresno opened on April 9, and others will begin selling this weekend.
Valley strawberry production is small compared to Southern California and Coastal production areas. Nearly all the farms are just a few acres in size and the bulk of their produce is sold at roadside stands. UC farm advisors work closely with these producers to help them grow safe and wholesome fruit.
The farmers are mainly Mien and Hmong refugees from Laos, a Southeast Asian country that neighbors Vietnam. When the U.S. left Southeast Asia in 1975, thousands of Hmong and Mien fled their homeland to avoid persecution. Over 120,000 were eventually resettled in the U.S. The population today has expanded to an estimated 300,000.
Many of the first-generation immigrants were farmers in Laos and turned to farming in the U.S. These growers lease small plots and grow several varieties of strawberries, such as Chandler, Camarosa, Albion and Seascape. Few have formal agricultural education.
In addition to offering production assistance, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors Richard Molinar in Fresno, Maxwell Norton in Merced and Chuck Ingels in Sacramento offer food safety training to reduce the risk of a foodborne illness outbreak associated with strawberries. Working with the California Strawberry Commission, Molinar and Norton have for the last five years held intensive food safety workshops that included hands-on training about proper handling of the fruit and personal hygiene. The farmers were given training materials in Hmong and English that they could use to teach the workers they hired about reducing any chances of the fruit becoming contaminated. Twenty-six growers in the Fresno region and 27 in the Merced region participated in workshops. Many are currently learning about third-party food safety audits with the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
In Sacramento County, Ingels and a team of researchers provided on-farm training in pest management and food safety. Ingels’ team worked directly with 11 strawberry growers in 2009 and 2010.
“On the first visit to their farms, we found out their current practices and then provided training,” Ingels said. “We came back a second time to do further training and evaluate their progress. We visited the farms a third time to determine whether changes to their practices were being sustained. There was definitely a shift (for the better).”
With an increasing focus on food safety, many produce buyers, suppliers, and consumers want to know that good agricultural practices are being used on the farm. The programs in the various counties help to document and verify that farms are producing fruits and vegetables in the safest manner possible and that the farmer is aware of potential problems and steps to correct them.
Richard Molinar, left, and his assistant Michael Yang, center, work with a Southeast Asian strawberry grower.