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What's It Like to Work on an Almond Grove?

In the final installment of our Faces of Farming series, Nutrition Diva talks with almond grower Brian Wahlbrink about almonds, sustainability, and the future of agriculture.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
Episode #504
image of almond farm in California

Almonds are the most popular nut in America; Americans consume an average of two pounds of almonds per person each year. Although all nuts are nutritious, almonds are particularly good sources of fiber, vitamin E, calcium, and monounsaturated fats.  

The health benefits of almonds have been well-documented in clinical trials. Frequent almond consumption has been shown to lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation, help control blood sugar, and support weight loss—and the most effective way to deploy them is as an alternative to other less nutritious snacks.

A recent study found that replacing between-meal snacks with almonds improved overall diet quality, reduced empty calories, and increased total nutrient intake. And just a few years ago, almond lovers got another piece of good news: it turns out that they are about 25% lower in calories than previously thought. For decades, we believed that an ounce of almonds contained about 170 calories. More accurate methods reveal that an ounce—or small handful—of almonds contains just 130 calories.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been talking to professional farmers about their lives and work. We’ve heard from people who grow fruit and vegetables, run dairy farms, and raise cattle. Some of what you’ve heard may have changed your mental picture of farms or cattle ranches. But do you even have a mental picture of an almond grove?

Although North America is now the world’s largest producer of almonds, most of us have never seen an almond tree in bloom or heavy with nuts. This week, we’re going to take a virtual visit to an almond grove in California with almond grower Brian Wahlbrink. The following is a lightly edited transcript of our talk together. 

A Conversation with Almond Grower Brian Wahlbrink

Nutrition Diva: Welcome to the Nutrition Diva podcast, Brian!

Brian Wahlbrink: Thank you, thanks for having me.

ND: Tell us what’s going on in the almond groves right now. What’s your day today going to look like after we finish taping this interview?

BW: Well we're coming off a very strong and busy harvest, which really dominates most of August and September. Now we're getting the trees ready to go to sleep, as we call it, or to enter the dormancy period on the almond life cycle. So we're hedging, pruning, and irrigating as we wait for rain in California. We're feeding the trees and composting, and we're also planting covered crops, all getting ready for the bloom in 2019. 

ND: Something tells me that even though the trees are dormant, the almond growers are busy year round.

BW: Yes, it definitely is a 12-month-a-year profession. But it's ever-changing, always exciting, and we're always trying to stay ahead in the fields.

ND: So do you only harvest one time per year?

BW: Correct. The caliper and almond harvest typically lasts from August through September. It was a little bit later year this year due to some colder temperatures early on in the season, and some growers are wrapping up as late as the first week of November.

ND: As I mentioned earlier, we all could pick an almond out of a line-up, but most of us wouldn’t know an almond tree if we saw one. And perhaps that’s what motivated you a couple of years ago to start an Instagram feed. Tell us about the 44 Days of Harvest project.

BW: Sure thing. I've actually gone through three seasons now, documenting the day-by-day occurrences on the ranch. The conversation was started three years ago—people were asking me on a daily basis what was going on from the fields and I said, "Well, how about I just start posting and show you guys?" So I grabbed my phone, went into the field, and really tried to document what we were doing that day, trying to give the outsiders an inside look at how we're farming, what we're doing, and what the harvest really looks like.

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