HMC News – June 2020

Our platform equipment is now being used for harvest in our high density stone fruit orchards! This is an exciting moment for us, since this concept has taken three years of hard work and dedication to come to fruition.

Nectarine harvest at HMC Farms using new ag technology: platform equipment

We recently installed an optical grader to the packline in our plum packing house at HMC Reedley. The optical sorter not only improves our efficiency by automatically removing fruit with defects before it reaches the pack tables, but it also provides detailed statistics about each lot of fruit that help us improve our practices out in the field.  Our plum team is pictured above (Raul, Paula, Nick and Greg).

Personnel from HMC Reedley's plum team standing by new plum grader equipment

Veraison is just beginning in our Flame table grapes, which is the point at which ripening begins. Red and black varieties begin to change color, and green varieties lose some opacity as natural sugars begin to accumulate in the berries. These particular grapes will be ready to harvest next month.

Veraison in HMC Farms table grapes, grape color is changing from green to red

We are excited to begin harvest of our proprietary Plumsicle™ later this week. This piece of fruit was selected purely for flavor reasons and we think it is unequivocally the best tasting plum or plumcot of the season (don’t tell the Holiday plum, Honey Punch, or Ebony Rose that we said that). They will be available this season in 1# clams and 2# bags, with the variety name itself proudly featured on the package.

Plumsicle™ proprietary plum or plumcot variety displayed in 2lb bag and 1lb clam packaging

Get the stone fruit you want from grocery shopping services

If you’ve ever second-guessed ordering produce through a shopping service like Instacart or curbside pickup at your local grocer, you’re not alone! Trying to calculate the number of pounds of peaches you need for a pie or ginger you need for a recipe is tricky – we once ended up with a giant bag of ginger in our curbside grocery pickup because half a pound of ginger is way more than you think it is. Whether you want to get the right quantity of fruit, or simply communicate your preference of soft vs firm fruit with your shopper, we’re here to help!

add notes: tell your shopper if you prefer your peaches soft or firm, and can even request fruit with no green in the stem well

Add notes.

Some shopping services, like Instacart, allow shoppers to add comments or instructions for each item. This is where you can tell your shopper if you prefer your peaches soft or firm, and can even request fruit with no green in the stem well.

Make a plan for how much fruit you need: Peach pie: 5-6 pieces, Stone fruit cobbler: 6-8 pieces, Stone fruit galette: 6-8 pieces, Peach/nectarine salsa: 3 pieces. Store fruit properly. Peaches, plums, and nectarines are best stored on the counter at room temperature until reaching your desired level of softness. Need to speed up the softening process? Try putting the fruit in a paper bag. Check the fruit daily, and once it's ready, enjoy right away or place in the fridge to extend its useful life. 

Plan what you need.

Eating nectarines as a snack? Using peaches in a recipe? Order the right amount of fruit with a little bit of planning. Here’s a guide to quantities for some of our favorite recipes:

Peach pie: 5-6 pieces

Stone fruit cobbler: 6-8 pieces

Stone fruit galette: 6-8 pieces

Peach/nectarine salsa: 3 pieces

 

Store fruit properly.

Peaches, plums, and nectarines are best stored on the counter at room temperature until reaching your desired level of softness. Need to speed up the softening process? Try putting the fruit in a paper bag. Check the fruit daily, and once it’s ready, enjoy right away or place in the fridge to extend its useful life.

Have a backup plan. Try using extra fruit in a smoothie of freezing it to use later!

Have a backup plan.

If you ended up with more fruit than you wanted, or if your plans changed and you have fruit that’s on its last leg, try making a smoothie or freezing the fruit for future use as an ingredient! There are several recipes available in our blog that offer alternative uses for fruit that’s just past its prime.

Peach oat muffins recipe

Vanilla peach smoothie popsicle recipe

Stone fruit galette recipe

HMC News – May 2020

Harvest has begun in our stone fruit orchards! At this point, the fruit is a little smaller than normal due to the decreased amount of time between bloom and harvest, and the timing is a little ahead of last year.  

It’s hot!  Last week we experienced rain and peak temperatures around 72°, this week’s record projected heat is as high as 109°. Grapes and stone fruit don’t like this heat any more than people. In stone fruit, extreme heat slows everything down and halts growth, causing some heat damage to the fruit – especially dark colored plums. In table grapes, any of the exposed berries not covered by foliage will burn.

A few months ago, we increased efficiency and eliminated the need for ladders by using platforms in our high density stone fruit orchards. Since then, we have started to experiment by attaching an artificial light to the same equipment to perform “night thinning.” Beginning before the sun comes up, crews are able to finish this crucial process in the cool morning hours. Going forward, we will modify our picking by transitioning this process into harvest, resulting in an optimal product by removing the afternoon heat. This is an efficient operation that benefits the workers and product by eliminating the summer heat.

We are moving rake wire in our table grape vineyards. This process opens up a wire in the middle of the trellis that helps guide and organize the canes and their growth to conform to the V shape of the trellis. There are multiple benefits of rake wire use. It helps get all of the clusters to hang out in the “fruiting zone” underneath the trellis, making maintenance and harvest more efficient. Sunlight is allowed in to hit the bottom of canes, which helps with fruitfulness in next year’s crop. A pocket forms for air to flow and escape, reducing chances of humidity getting trapped underneath the canopy.

Feeling Peachy: Activity Sheets for Kids from The Produce Moms

Stone Fruit {Tree Fruit}

Feeling peachy? Stone fruit season is in full bloom, and we couldn’t be more excited that our friends at The Produce Moms created some fun peach-themed activity sheets for kids!
Original blog on The Produce Moms website

What exactly is a stone fruit (also referred to as tree fruit)? It’s a fruit with a large, hard pit or “stone” inside of it. The stone contains the seeds or kernels of the fruit. The stone fruit category includes peaches, nectarines, plums, plumcots, apricots, cherries and more!

Let’s take a little closer at the anatomy of a stone fruit…

Feeling Peachy Activity Sheets

As we know, education is key to consumption.  We love to create activity sheets focused on fruits and veggies.  It is a great way for kids to learn more about the fresh produce that they love to eat. In our first activity sheet, we have the kids complete the basic anatomy of a peach.  Using a color-by-number approach, they will also learn what each part of the peach is called.  Also on the first activity sheet is a fun math problem.  But be careful, the math problem is a bit tricky!

Our second activity sheet is a funny & peachy story created “Mad Lib” style.  Kids will fill in the blanks with words of their choice and be able to create their own story! Some of the younger kids may need help with the parts of speech. The best part is that you can create multiple stories with this activity!  We also have a fun suggestion for adding stone fruit to your next pancake breakfast!

HMC News – April 2020

Take a look at a before and after of tree fruit thinning in one of our peach orchards, pictured below. Thinning is a process in which we remove under sized or over crowded pieces of fruit from our trees. This allows our trees to provide better nutrients to the remaining fruit for better sizing and flavor. It also protects tree limbs from breaking due to the heavy weight of too many pieces of fruit. During this process, our crews are also able to remove unnecessary new growth to save time and costs by not taking another pass through the orchards to prune this growth later.

We are in the midst of planting new grape varieties on our farms. Once the ground is prepped and the irrigation lines are set up, planting locations are marked and new vines are planted. It’s important for the irrigation to be set up first in order to irrigate the land before and after planting, allowing the vines to ease into their new environment. As you can see here, each new vine is given a bamboo stick for support and training purposes and a carton for protection. After the vines are planted, we work on installing our V-trellis system, which has begun with the stakes visible in the photo below.

Our stone fruit orchards are coming along nicely. The early-season peaches pictured above, which are right outside our office, are just about the size of ping pong balls. As you can see, they are already gaining a blush color. Over the coming weeks, they will grow quite a bit as they prepare for harvest, which will begin soon in our orchards. With temperatures in the mid 80s, we should have a very good quality and taste to start the season. Last year, we had lower than normal temperatures and rain for much of May, which impacted our quality. This year’s crop looks exceptionally good, and we should have great tasting fruit by mid-May, with a harvest schedule similar to last year.

Letter from HMC Farms co-owner and Chief Financial Officer, Sarah McClarty

I’m writing this blog at 5:00 am, trying to get a few hours of work done in peace before I get to perform the exhausting dance of helping keep our company afloat, our employees safe, and the nation’s food supply secure while homeschooling our two children. I’ve been doing this for almost a month now. I’m tired, I’m scared, and I’m one of the lucky ones.

We had approximately 1.5 million pounds of grapes in our cold storage destined for schools, restaurants, amusement parks, airlines, and hotels when much of the nation was told to stay home, schools were closed, and businesses locked their doors. These grapes weren’t in bags you can find in the grocery store, they were prepped for food service channels – bulk grapes, pre-cut into perfect handful size bunches and grapes already taken off the stem, washed, and ready to eat. Overnight, a lot of our food service customers stopped ordering and sent us letters stating they have no idea when they’ll be able to pay us again. No money coming in and a mountain of perishable inventory is not a business model anyone would recommend, but as my father-in-law Harold put it – we are considered an essential business, and we had the chance to keep operating. It was time to get creative.

We started repacking our grapes into retail ready bags, worked with school districts to get them the product they needed in packaging that worked for their new meal pick-up formats, and pushed inventory into home delivery services that have seen an uptick in their businesses. We have a longstanding relationship with our local food bank, and have donated millions of pounds of summer stone fruit to them over the years. We knew there was no way we would sell all of our inventory, and we also knew there was a large population in our community that would need assistance during this time. Before the grapes deteriorated, we started sending the California Association of Food Banks several truckloads of fruit each week. Last week, our local food bank reached out to their longtime donors asking if there was anything more we could do – they had a 50% jump in need in the prior two weeks, and almost a quarter of the people receiving food and supplies were first time visitors to the food bank.  Only a few months prior, HMC had hosted a volunteer night at the food bank packing up hundreds of boxes for their weekly distributions. With tears in my eyes, wondering what those families are going through now I wrote a large check on behalf of the McClarty Family.

In the forefront of our planning during this entire time has been the safety of our employees. Their health is not only required for us to keep operating, but they are part of our family and we would never want to compromise their safety. Across our operations, we have always maintained high sanitary standards as is required of food growers, handlers, and processors; but we have redoubled our efforts and taken further steps to allow for social distancing. As mitigation steps, we have broken our crews into small pods, we don’t move employees between pods, breaks and lunchtimes are staggered by pods, and in our packing facility the different pods wear different color labels to help promote separation. We sponsor a free clinic for our employees that has remained open and servicing clients during this time. Though we’ve had to lay off people in our processing plant due to the drastic downturn in business, we continue to allow them to access the clinic and receive both acute and maintenance care during this health crisis.

We are now looking forward. We have millions of dollars invested in the crops out in our fields right now. Our sales staff is doing their best to meet our customers’ ever-changing needs including adjustments to packaging that there are now even longer production lead times on. Supplies in general are hard to come by and must be ordered weeks in advance. We have started the labor-intensive practice of thinning our stone fruit, and must still pay for continued cultural practices, harvest, packing, storage, and shipment of our product before it gets to an end user. All of this means paying out money now, when we are facing the uphill battle of collecting receivables from longtime customers that are facing unprecedented financial challenges of their own.

As my son’s 2nd grade teacher told her students during one of their Zoom instructional meetings last week, we are living through a significant historical moment right now. While many people continue to try to predict, none of us know the long-term ramifications this pandemic has or will cause. We as food producers have an opportunity to be part of that history lesson, to be part of a success story. To keep our food supply flowing, we need to see flexibility in trucking rules, we need the USDA to step in and use the existing PACA Act to help keep money flowing back to producers, we need to see relaxation in regulations that are now at odds with new COVID-19 requirements, we must keep farmers and ranchers growing and producing food. Decisions being made now will impact our nation’s food supply for years. HMC is committed to helping support these changes, our employees, and our community. This is a time for everyone to get creative and to help each other out. We will keep evolving to do our best under ever-changing circumstances.

 

Sarah McClarty

Chief Financial Officer, HMC Farms

HMC News – March 2020

Plum trees are not self-pollinating like peach and nectarine trees, so they require pollination from other plum varieties in order to produce fruit. To give our plums the best chance of pollination, we plant blocks of cross-pollinating varieties adjacent to each other on large ranches. It is important to choose varieties which bloom at the same time to ensure that bees can do their work, moving pollen from the blossoms of one variety to another. when the bloom timing of the varieties is off, or when the weather is too cold for bees to fly (below 55°F), the result is a short plum crop. As pictured, we have lots of uniform bloom this year, which is hopefully a good sign for a full plum harvest.

Our dormant grape vineyards recently received a layer of compost to help feed soil microbes and replenish depleted nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in the soil. Using compost allows us to maintain soil health using organic forms of nutrients, and reduces the need for synthetic fertilizer. To ensure the compost we use is safe to apply, it is put into rows, brought to an appropriate temperature, and turned multiple times to ensure any pathogens are cooked out. The timing of compost application depends on the weather – we wait until late winter has passed so that heavy rains don’t wash minerals past the root zone and the temperature is warm enough for soil microbes to be active.

We are taking as many precautions as possible to ensure a continued supply of nutritious produce during these unprecedented times. We are staggering break and meal periods in our facilities to minimize the number of people in a given area at one time, we have changed configurations in our processing facility to maximize social distancing, and we are continuing to follow our already extremely high standards for hygiene and food safety. We are also fogging common areas with disinfectant during off hours and have procured additional laptops to allow some employees to work from home as necessary. We are planning for the upcoming stone fruit season, with thinning starting. So far there looks to be a heavy crop load, which will require extensive and timely thinning of our crop. We are watching the skies closely as there is rain in the forecast, and we have approached the time of spring in which precipitation that turns into hail can be incredibly devastating.

Free Downloadable Activity Sheets for Kids

With many school districts closed or planning to close across the country, we know lots of parents out there are looking for activities kids can do at home. Check out our HMC Farms Pinterest page with a board dedicated to kids with free downloadable activity sheets and even STEM projects to help keep your kids occupied while they’re home!

https://www.pinterest.com/hmcfarms/grapes-for-schools/

HMC News – February 2020

Several members of our team from sales, production, and quality control recently visited our HMC Farms office in Chile. The group was also able to visit vineyards and packing facilities in multiple growing regions throughout the country. The key takeaway from the trip was an enhanced understanding of the scale and complexity of farming operations in Chile, as well as the unique challenges regarding production coordination, farming practices, and logistics.

The Fresno County Blossom Trail is one of the main early-spring attractions of California’s Central Valley. Each year from late February through mid-March, delicate blossoms from peach, nectarine, plum, apricot, almond, and apple trees decorate the 62 mile loop. Part of our farms sit directly on the blossom trail, adding pink blooms from our peach and nectarine orchards and white blooms from our plum orchards to this stunning display of natural beauty.

National School Breakfast Week, which launched in 1989 in order to raise awareness of and participation in school breakfast programs, is March 2-6. As alternative serving methods, such as breakfast in the classroom and breakfast on the bus, have gained in popularity, prepackaged and ready-to-eat items have become a staple in school breakfasts. HMC Farms provides value-added grapes, such as our washed and ready-to-eat Grape Escape, to schools across the nation as part of their school nutrition programs — which include breakfast, lunch, and snacks!

HMC News – January 2020

Welcome to a new decade! Although it’s winter on our farms, there’s still a lot going on…

Recent weather has provided some crucial chill hours to our trees and vines. Chill hours occur when the temperature is between 32°F and 45°F while our trees and vines are dormant. Each variety and type of fruit has different chill hour requirements, which can range from approximately 100-800 hours. We currently have more than 700 chill hours logged on our farms. That’s around 200 hours more than we had at this point last year. January rainfall on our farms is average for the Central Valley. Once the chill hours have been reached and the weather begins to warm, our trees and vines begin to come out of dormancy, signaled by buds and blooms.

 

Weather in California’s Central Valley has its own unique attributes. One of the things that sets us apart is tule fog. No ordinary mist, tule fog is radiation fog, which forms when humidity is high and the ground is cold with little to no wind. This dense ground fog often forms in the days following rain in the Central Valley, causing sections of very low visibility – often 1/4 mile (.4 km) or less. This low visibility leads to “foggy day schedules” at our local schools as school buses and parents wait for visibility to increase for safe driving conditions.

 

The trees in our high density orchards have now grown to a point which opens the door to a new method of tree pruning utilizing a platform instead of ladders. In comparison with ladder use, the platform saves time and increases safety for our field crews by eliminating the need to climb up and down a ladder and then move it a few feet to start the process again. The platform is beneficial for many farming activities in our high density orchards, including pruning, thinning, and harvest. We are excited to see how this new piece of equipment will increase our efficiency throughout the tree fruit cycle this year.