A couple of weeks ago, I had an opportunity to spend a day out in Modesto, California with these lovely ladies (L to R: Kelley, Julie, Ali, Robyn, Jenny and me) as we visited one of Del Monte’s canneries and a peach and tomato farm nearby that grow for them. It was an eye-opening experience on many levels. From learning that 90% of Del Monte’s fruit and vegetables are grown here in the U.S. (and 100% of the canned peaches and tomatoes), to the ins and outs of the harvesting process, to the hundreds, actually it’s probably more like thousands of specific steps it takes to get a peach from the farm once harvested into a can and on your store’s shelf.
We started the day off with some snazzy hair nets and a tour of the peach cannery. To say that it’s large would be the understatement of the year. It.is.massive. With multiple buildings and machinery so specific you seriously wonder who on this planet was able to come up with the engineering behind it, we were awed at every turn by the workings of this facility.
And while there is machine after impressive machine and such diligent attention to detail from the employees that obviously make a company as large as Del Monte able to supply the entire United States with it’s canned fruits and vegetables, the thing that surprised me the most was the “realness” of this whole operation. What do I mean by “realness”? When you’re walking down the aisle of your grocery store and you see that can of Del Monte diced tomatoes that’s on your shopping list, there’s this sense of detachment, right? You can’t even really fathom where those tomatoes might have come from. You just know you need diced tomatoes and in your cart they go. The cool thing about this trip was seeing the cartons full of produce fresh off the harvesting truck, the majority of which get packed the same day, and then later in the day actually visiting one of those farms, meeting that farm family that grows those peaches or tomatoes and putting the whole process together in your mind. It’s not some mysterious can of tomatoes on the store shelf anymore, it’s a family with a farm in California making a living like they’ve been doing for 3 or more generations and producing products that eventually make their way into our home pantries and onto our dinner tables.
Personally, when I buy the canned fruit I buy the kind packed in fruit juice, not syrup. One of the cool things we learned on the factory tour was that fruit juice they use for packing comes from the fruit that didn’t meet their standards in regards to color or size, keeping the wasted fruit to a minimum in the whole process.
After the factory, we headed 10 minutes down the road to one of the peach farms Del Monte partners with and met the two brothers (and Cosmo the orchard dog!) who have been working on this farm since they were kids.
We listened to them talk about the history of peach farming, how they maintain the trees, how they use pheromones to help protect against certain insects and the harvesting process (which was going to take place about a week after our visit).
Cosmo got a lot of love and we enjoyed a few fuzzy peaches straight off the trees.
After a delicious lunch of everything from salads to spare ribs to peach cobbler we headed out to a tomato farm about an hour away to check out how that harvesting process works. The Pereira family who owns the tomato farm, was so incredibly nice, literally giving us bags to fill up and take tomatoes home with us (which I took full advantage of!).
These tomatoes were only a couple of days away from being harvested and were sweet as could be out in the full California sun. It was absolutely nuts to pull back the tomato vines that hugged the ground on this Roma variety and see the hundreds of tomatoes underneath! So.many.tomatoes!
The Pereira’s own over 900 acres of farm land and grow a variety of things on their land, but tomatoes are their most profitable crop and therefore the one they “worry” about the most. The threat of rain the week before we were (which isn’t normal for that part of California this time of year) there had the family very stressed out for a day or so. We saw the difference between a drip irrigation field and a flood irrigated field and then even got to see a harvesting machine in action.
I think a lot of people (myself included in the past) have this “not as good for you” mentality when it comes to canned produce versus fresh. The reality of that however, is that canned fruits and veggies in the store can be just as good for you as if you were to do the canning at home in your kitchen. The nutrient profile of canned produce, we learned, is actually very similar to fresh and in some fruits & vegetables, canned versions are even higher in antioxidants and vitamins as a result of the canning process itself.
Knowing where my food is coming from is something that’s pretty important to me. It’s obviously easy to feel comfortable with fresh, local produce and I’m so happy I can feel the same about the fruits & vegetables I buy in the Del Monte can now too after this trip. I can’t thank the farmers who opened up their livelihoods to us and Del Monte who let us get a peek behind the scenes enough for this great opportunity.
*This trip was hosted by Del Monte & Blogher. I’m being compensated for my time but as always, opinions and content are my own.