Walnut farmers like Don Norene have a lot to be thankful for this year.
"We have probably the second, next to the second record crop in production,"
That's more than three hundred tons of walnuts. Norene has 750 acres on
his orchard near Wheatland, California. Says Don, "You can tell when
the walnuts are ready to harvest because you give them the test and if
they pop right out of that green, protective hull they're ready to go.
The nuts are removed from the tree by a mechanical shaker. After they
hit the ground, walnuts are blown into a row where mechanical harvesters
pick them up for cleaning and hulling. The Central Valley is home to the
largest commercial crop in the country-more than two hundred thousand
acres to serve a growing consumer appetite for this age-old nut. But how
do you choose a good one? Says Don, "So it's not like picking a cantaloupe
where I've got to turn it around, thump it a little bit. We as farmers
sort out any that might be a little less than perfect. If they go through
the line they're eliminated. If they're from California it's okay."
Not only has 2004 been a record year for the walnut crop, but also the
nutritional value of walnuts is being touted now, more than ever. Walnuts
are the first whole food to get a claim from the FDA because of their
heart-healthy benefits that will help people reduce the risk of cardiovascular
Carol Berg Sloan, a science and nutrition consultant for the California
Walnut Commission says health experts have found walnuts are the easiest
way to get omega-3 fatty acids into your diet. "Omega three fatty
acids are essential fatty acids that the body needs and in a recent study
we found that walnuts and the omega threes actually help the elasticity
of the artery become clearer so blood pumps through the body much better,"
says Berg Sloan"
Walnuts are also protein-rich and have no cholesterol or trans fat and
you don't need much each day to reap the nutritional benefits-just a handful,
which is about one and half ounces.
Reporter Pat McConahay said, "Carol, people don't realize just how
versatile the walnut is.
Carol: Yes, walnuts can be added to a traditional salad. You can put
some cranberries and walnuts on here. As well, you can put some walnuts
on top of soup and it just really gives it a nutritional punch and adds
crunch and versatility.
How about adding some walnuts to your oatmeal or coating a chicken breast
with them for a tasty new twist? And, of course, if you have a sweet tooth,
you can enjoy walnuts in everything from pies to cookies. And all this
good health news means a bright future for farmers.
Says Carol, "This whole food idea of a nutritious food such as walnuts
has allowed the industry to expand and as it's expanded we've noted the
demand has picked up."
Now nut farmers can just hope for another record crop next year.