Califonia Bountiful

Natural goodness boosts almond consumption

Each summer in California's great Central Valley, tiny earthquakes abound during the state's almond harvest.

Each summer in California's great Central Valley, tiny earthquakes abound. This seismic activity comes during the state's almond harvest, as trees are shaken and the precious harvest is prepared for a very appreciative audience.

The Golden State is home to 700,000 acres of almonds, with annual production in excess of 1 billion pounds. California supplies about 80 percent of the world's almonds.

Harvest is a busy time but a fun one for growers, including Greg Overton in Glenn County.

"My pride is that I know I'm delivering the best product to the consumer that's out there," he said. "It makes me feel great to grow a product that people like. It makes me feel satisfied at the end of the day."

Overton's almonds head to Blue Diamond, which operates the world's largest almond processing plant in Sacramento. There, up to 700 workers and sophisticated machines process upwards of 1 million pounds of almonds each day.

As more consumers learn about nut nutrition, almond consumption continues to increase. Americans eat a little more than a pound of almonds each year, a figure that has doubled in less than a decade.

Blue Diamond is among those who have scored major success by marketing natural almonds - whole, natural nuts that aren't seasoned, roasted or cooked. They're especially popular among young women and have in short order become the cooperative's second-most-popular product.

Almonds are also increasingly popular in restaurants.

At Oliveto in Oakland, the nuts are used regularly in all types of meals, from appetizers to desserts.

"The California almond farmers are great heroes in all of this," said Chef de Cuisine Paul Canales. "They have the long tradition. They work with the diversity, climate and soil in the area. They really are part and parcel of what we do. We wouldn't be the restaurant that we are without our local farmers."

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