We’re almost completely done pruning in our plum orchards, and we are busy pruning in our peach and nectarine orchards. Pruning is an important process of the annual stone fruit cycle as we prepare the trees for winter. By removing the older wood from the trees, we not only make way for new fruiting wood for the 2022 harvest season, but we also keep the trees shaped properly.
In our high density stone fruit orchards, crews are using electric pruning shears in order to reach the upper parts of trees without ladders. These electric shears improve efficiency while still allowing our employees to make precise cuts. Eliminating the use of ladders for pruning makes the process safer and reduces the physical burden on our employees.
We live by this credo, which some find irrational. The onerous circumstances we must navigate in California agriculture to produce better tasting fruit each year are getting increasingly more difficult, and have yet to reach an inflection point. Inputs, whether they are labor, water, or materials, haven’t just become more expensive, but at times they have become unavailable. If you read our newsletter on a monthly basis, you are aware of some of the creative ways in which we are trying to keep costs from continuing to rise. We want to keep our products as competitive with other commodities as possible, and don’t want to push the products we grow into “luxury item” status. We believe in the stone fruit and table grape commodities. As we reflect on what may have been the best tasting season in our history, we take some pride in having brought these products into the marketplace. It is this belief and small sense of pride that urges us to continue to do what tastes right.
With so many holidays throughout the month of December, we find ourselves snacking constantly, and there’s no snack we love more than… well basically anything served on a board. Why do snacks taste so much better from a board? Honestly, it’s a mystery, but even our kids love a good snack board so we’ve rounded up some charcuterie board ideas from the HMC Farm Kitchen to get you through the holidays and into the new year.
Board #1: The winter classic
This is one of our favorite winter charcuterie boards. We started with HMC Farms red seedless grapes (of course), and added local almonds, pistachios, pomegranates, and salami—in fact, nearly everything on this board is grown or made in California. What we love most about this board is that it balances the sweetness of in-season fruit with the saltiness of salami and nuts and the bold flavor of our favorite cheeses. It’s a crowd-pleaser, and our go-to when hosting a small gathering or cocktails over Zoom.
What we used for the winter classic:
HMC Farms red seedless grapes
Pomegranates from the Central Valley
Almonds from the Central Valley
Two kinds of salami from Busseto Foods
Dubliner cheese from Kerrygold
Habanero and jalapeño cheddar from Yancey’s Fancy
Board #2: The vegetarian board
FYI: meat is not required for a delicious board of snacks. We said it. Honestly, why should meat eaters have all the fun? Whether you are a vegetarian, shifting toward a more plant-based diet, or simply not eating processed meats (hello, pregnant ladies!), this board is a great option to enjoy your board sans-meat (you can also ditch the cheese or swap for vegan cheese to make this a vegan board). Honestly, even if you’re an omnivore, you might not even notice the salami is missing—we didn’t!
What we used for the vegetarian board:
HMC Farms red seedless grapes
Oranges and pomegranates from the Central Valley
Red walnuts from the Central Valley
Dubliner cheese from Kerrygold
Red wine cheese
Rosemary from our backyard for garnish
Board #3: The charcuterie wreath
It took us a minute to get on board with the charcuterie wreath trend. It seemed like a waste to leave a giant gap where there should be a pile of yummy snack foods. However, with the holidays upon us, we concede that a charcuterie wreath is cute for Christmas gatherings. If you’ve got a plate so cute you don’t want to cover it up, or if your famous artichoke dip needs a home on your charcuterie board, this might be the perfect fit for you.
What we used for the charcuterie wreath:
HMC Farms red seedless grapes
Cranberry white cheddar cheese
Served with a side of mini crisps
Board #4: The jarcuterie
This portable pint-sized snack is a promising pick when plating your preferences isn’t pleasant. (We are trying to compete with Peter Piper and his peppers here). A jarcuterie is an adorable way to refer to all of your favorite charcuterie board items served in jars. Why do we love jarcuteries? They remind us of Christmas stockings. There are layers of fun surprises, and you honestly never know what you’ll find at the bottom. You can easily customize jarcuteries for people with food allergies or dietary preferences that would make different foods overlapping on a board a bad idea. This is also a great way to prevent people from touching (or breathing on) all of the treats, and it’s pretty easy to make these little guys look just as adorable as a full spread. As a fun bonus, your uncle can’t hog all of the HMC Farms grapes if everyone gets their own portion.
As a family owned farming business, we are always excited when we have the opportunity to partner with other local businesses in California’s Central Valley on different types of projects. Sometimes that leads to delicious pies and specialty ice cream flavors, and other times it leads to beautiful artwork.
This year, we had the opportunity to partner with Lauren, owner of Paper Farm Press, on a grape project. Paper Farm Press is a fellow Central Valley business which creates hand printed cards, stationery, and artwork prints using vintage printing machines affectionately named Willa and Heidi. Their mission is to cultivate community by learning about farming, encouraging others through hand-printed cards, and sharing recipes. Lauren’s work blends her faith with local agriculture, which requires a fair amount of faith in itself, in order to create beautiful pieces with important messages.
When Lauren, who happens to be one of our grape growers, reached out to us to learn more about the grape growing process, we were happy to help. We provided her with all of the details about preparing the soil, irrigating, pruning, growth stages, and harvesting our table grape vineyards. We also shared the ways in which we’re using agricultural technology to make our vineyard maintenance and harvest processes more efficient. Most people may think of grapes as a seasonal commodity, but farming truly is a year-round commitment to caring for and maintaining the vines and the land on which they grow. With the information provided by HMC Farms, coupled with Lauren’s design skills, the Paper Farm Press “Grapeful for You” stationery box came to fruition. Every piece in the collection is beautiful, but the artwork print “How to Grow Table Grapes to Feed the World” is the perfect interpretation of the work we do in our vineyards at HMC Farms.
One of our favorite things about Paper Farm Press, aside from the creation of beautiful handmade pieces, is the use of agricultural-based puns. We’re so grapeful that we had the opportunity to share the process of growing, maintaining, and harvesting our grape vineyards with Lauren. Paper Farm Press has graciously extended a 15% discount to friends of HMC Farms for all of their products, including the “Grapeful for You” collection, with code GRAPEFUL15.
In the beginning of this month we continued to prepare for new planting in our orchards. Once the old trees are pushed out, they go into an industrial wood chipper. The ground wood is then incorporated back into the soil on our farms. Through this process, we are doing our part to capture carbon in the atmosphere and fix it in the soil. Chipping the wood also eliminates the need to burn old trees, which can have a negative impact on the air quality in the Central Valley. The next step will be to go in and break up the compacted soil (a process we call ripping) and level out the ground.
We are slowly coming to end of table grape harvest with less than 10% of our grapes left to harvest. We are clipping and cleaning bunches during packing more than we had expected in order to remove sunburned berries from the summer heat waves and grapes impacted by October rain. The finished quality of grapes in the box still looks excellent, but additional effort is required to get it that way. Our final production numbers are expected to be a bit less than our pre-harvest estimates as we slowly wrap up.
At the end of this month we found ourselves almost fully prepped to plant new trees in our stone fruit orchards. The next steps toward planting are marking the planting rows and installing the underground irrigation system. After those final tasks are complete, we just need to wait for the nursery to deliver our trees, and we can begin planting in January.
Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, which kicks off the holiday season. Holiday traditions often revolve around food, and if we’re being honest, food is one of the things we look forward to most throughout the holiday season. At HMC Farms, we eat what we grow, and that means that our Thanksgiving table includes plenty of HMC Farms table grapes! In the spirit of our farm table, we’ve gathered some ideas for you to add to your own Thanksgiving table. Let us know if you try any of these by tagging us in your photos on social media, or leaving a comment here on our blog.
Charcuterie boards are popular for a reason, and we love the versatility of a block of wood piled up with all of our favorite snacks. We used a variety of cheeses, fruit, and other snacks in this charcuterie board-see the list below. Vegetarians or vegans can easily adapt this to their dietary specifications by ditching the salami, and swapping out the cheese for dairy alternatives. Nut allergy? Swap out the nuts for more crackers or some veggies. As long as you keep the grapes, we approve!
Here’s what we used on our holiday charcuterie board:
HMC Farms red seedless table grapes
Aged white cheddar
Habanero & jalapeño cheddar
Two types of salami
Sprigs of rosemary for greenery
Stuffing with roasted grapes
Tired of the same old boring stuffing with that turkey? Try mixing it up with the addition of roasted grapes! This is a winning choice because you can keep the same exact recipe (or box of mix) you always use, and just stir the roasted grapes in at the end. An additional bonus here is that roasting is a great option for grapes that are getting a little wrinkly or soft. Roasting grapes is as easy as plucking them off the stem, rinsing, tossing them in olive oil and a little bit of sea salt on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and popping them in the oven. The process is very simple, and you can up the ante a little bit here by adding thyme or rosemary when tossing the grapes in olive oil.
Looking for more on roasted grapes? Check out this guide from our friends at The Produce Moms.
Baked feta with roasted grapes
Yes, we are recommending two dishes that contain roasted grapes because they are really that good. If you haven’t tried roasted grapes before, you are truly missing out on a versatile topping or ingredient that can fit into many savory or sweet dishes. If you are a feta fan, you’ve probably tried the trendy baked feta pasta, and we don’t blame you. Quick and easy recipes are perfect to include in Thanksgiving, since you’re already spending plenty of time and effort on everything else. Rather than the main course, this is a great appetizer or side dish, or even the perfect centerpiece for your charcuterie board. Serve it with crackers or rustic bread and thank us later. You can find our recipe for baked feta and roasted grapes on our Instagram page or check out the similar recipe that inspired us on the Grapes from California website.
We are pushing out trees and prepping blocks for new planting in some of our orchards. Once the trees are removed and the compacted ground is broken up and prepped, we will be ready to plant new trees in about three to four months. The varieties we’ve chosen for new planting are the result of a good amount of research and planning, and we are confident that they will make a great addition to our stone fruit lineup.
Late season table grape harvest is thriving with the current weather conditions on our farms. The cool overnight low temperatures are ideal for berry color and maturation, as well as pleasant harvest weather for our employees, helping move us toward the end of the harvest season. The quality, timing, and flavor of grapes coming out of our vineyards are all holding strong.
Students from Reedley College recently visited our farms as part of a two semester course titled Fundamentals of Fresh Fruit. This class was privately funded by HMC Farms and other local stone fruit growers, and we’ve taken the lead on the course design. This semester, the focus is exposing students to all areas of our industry. Drew and other members of our farm management team gave students an introductory crash course on trees and vines. We covered everything from prepping fields to selecting varieties, and the concept behind our high density orchards. The goal of this course is to educate local students on everything ag has to offer in order to help attract and cultivate future generations of ag professionals in the Central Valley.
Last week, a group of HMC Farms employees volunteered at the Central California Food Bank. It was our first in-person group service event since the pandemic paused our extracurricular activities. We got to work on the food bank’s pack line, testing our quality control and packing skills on a new commodity; our team packed over 2,600 lbs of peppers! We greatly appreciate the work that food banks do to ensure people don’t go hungry, and are always thankful for any opportunity we have to support their efforts beyond our regular fruit and monetary donations.
The crispness of fall is finally in the air on our farms, and that means we’re cooking up all of our fall favorites in our farm kitchen! One of our favorite holidays around here just so happens to be Halloween, and we’ve got some ideas for healthier Halloween treats featuring grapes from HMC Farms! These treats are kid and adult approved, so gather the whole family and swap out sugary sweets for nature’s candy!
Looking for the perfect snack for your favorite Halloween movie? Whip up a bowl of these monster eyes! This almost-too-cute-to-eat snack is simply HMC Farms green seedless grapes topped with candy eyes (trust us, the plastic googly eyes don’t taste good, so please don’t eat them). To stick the candy eyes to the grapes, use a small dab of your favorite nut butter or icing. Get the monster eye look by just adding candy eyes to the top layer of grapes, it’s tough to keep them stuck to the grapes on the bottom layer.
Having a full on Halloween movie marathon or party? Try this Halloween snack board! We used the bowl of monster eyes for the center, and surrounded them with HMC Farms red seedless grapes, ghost & bat veggie chips, string cheese ghosts, cheddar jack-o-lanterns, pretzels, almonds, and candy bones. We achieved the string cheese ghost and cheddar jack-o-lantern looks by using a permanent marker on the plastic wrappers. If you want to draw directly on the cheese, be sure to use a food-safe marker! You can easily add some spooky salami to this board, or swap the cheddar rounds for mandarins, but the monster eyes are a must!
If you look at our Halloween snack board and imagine your children fighting over the same string cheese ghost, or if the thought of other people’s hands touching your food haunts your dreams, try a charcuterie assortment! This is a perfect way to offer snacks to a skeleton crew, or a whole mob of zombies in your backyard. It’s also a great way to have the kids help put snacks together – let them wash and dry their favorite color of HMC Farms grapes and fill up their jar while older kids or adults create the salami & cheese skewers and strong cheese ghosts.
The jarcuterie is perfectly portable for a treat yo-self moment in your bathtub with a glass of wine, or for watching your favorite celebrities learn to dance on television.
If you’re using HMC Farms grapes in your Halloween snacks, be sure to tag us on Facebook and Instagram!
The United Nations declared 2021 the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables in order to raise awareness of the importance of fruits and vegetables in human nutrition, food security, and health. One of the key messages in this campaign is the value of family farms in communities. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, family farms generate income, improve food security and nutrition, and enhance resiliency through sustainably managed local resources. We couldn’t agree more!
We normally compare table grape harvest timing to the previous year, but last year’s heavy wildfire smoke blanket pushed back grape maturation significantly. We’ve had approximately 20% more solar radiation over the past month than the same time period last year. During the last few weeks of September we experienced heavier smoke in the Central Valley, largely due to the fires in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. We expect that the smoke will clear out in the near future, but even if it lingers for a bit we already have much more momentum in color and berry maturity than we did at this time last year.
We are wrapping up the stone fruit season after a long, hot, and challenging summer. Weather conditions impacted our yield, but this turned out to be one of the best tasting crops in recent memory. It may seem like we’ve got a long break ahead of us, but farming truly is year-round, even for seasonal crops. We’ve already begun pruning trees to prepare for dormancy over the winter, and we are prepping blocks for winter planting.
HMC Farms recently participated in an ag tech summit at Reedley College to determine the future needs of the ag work force in specialty crops over the next ten years. HMC Farms is a progressive leader in mechanization and technology. We recognized years ago that our time and labor sensitive commodities are not sustainable the way they are produced today. Our role, if stone fruit and table grapes are to exist and be viable in the future, is to combine a technological approach with an educated workforce. This year, we made decisions on which blocks to pick, thin, etc. depending on the daily availability of labor which left fruit on the tree and not harvested.
We live in small towns in the Central Valley that all depend on agriculture, and we have a responsibility to the communities that support us and that we grew up in to find solutions to this changing environment. The purpose of these continuing conferences is to educate community colleges and expose our need for a workforce that reflects the change in the way we get our product in a box and to the marketplace. Exchanging entry level, lower paying, difficult jobs for better paying, more sophisticated, less physically demanding ones is our goal. To make this successful, there must be cooperative effort between colleges, our industry and government for these specialty crops and small towns to continue to exist. It was encouraging to see the celebration of talent and dedication it will take to make this successful. Our way of life depends on it.