Califonia Bountiful

Nuts for almonds

July/August 2021 California Bountiful magazine

Jenny Holtermann takes pride in her family's blossoming orchards

For Jenny and Tim Holtermann, with children Henry and Hazel, almonds are a family tradition. Photo courtesy of Theresa Wooner Photography

Jenny Holtermann's life is nuts. Literally, nuts. And she wouldn't have it any other way.

Holtermann and her husband, Tim, grow almonds in Kern County, one of the state's—and country's—most productive agricultural counties. They're both fourth-generation farmers. Their great-grandfathers settled in California in the early 1900s: hers in Chico and his in Wasco. The couple met at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and after graduation, she followed him to Shafter, where they're raising their children—son Henry, 6, and daughter Hazel, 3—in addition to almonds.

California almond growers like the Holtermanns cared for nearly 2 million acres of trees in 2019, the most recent year with full statistics available, according to the Almond Board of California. You'll find almond trees and their late-winter blossoms lining the roads along the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys.

101 ways to use an almond
What's Holtermann's favorite way to enjoy almonds? "There's just something about eating them fresh out of the orchard." That said, "There's definitely lots of different options out there for consumers these days, especially in the almond world: flavored, chocolate covered, but even just almond flour, almond butter. I think that's one of the great aspects about almonds, is that they are so versatile and they can be made and developed into so many things. They're even making tortillas out of almond flour nowadays. It's baffling, all the different things that they can use them for."

What's in a name?
Did you know there are two ways to pronounce the nut's name? Some folks use "ALL-monds," while others say "AMM-onds." Growing up, Holtermann said, "I thought everyone called them 'ammonds.' When I went away to college, I quickly learned that wasn't the case." She believes the difference is regional, with "ammonds" generally prevailing north of Modesto and Turlock and "almonds" south of there. Then there's her father's practical advice: "My dad used to always say, 'It doesn't matter what you call it—just buy it.'"

Myth information
One of the most-repeated tales about almonds is that it takes a gallon of water to produce one nut. Holtermann says this myth is all wet. "First, I would just say that they take no more water than other nut or fruit trees," she said, adding, "Something unique and specific to almonds is that we're not just growing a nut. We're not just growing the meat. The water that is used to grow what you consider an almond also goes to growing the shell and the hull, and of course the tree." Those trees, she noted, can be in production for 25 to 30 years.

Nothing goes to waste
And that leads into the many other ways almonds and their parts can be put to use. "Almonds have those three layers: The meat, or what the consumer knows as the almond, and the shell and the hull, and those three things are all used," Holtermann said. "The shell is used in animal bedding. They also use it in cogeneration plants to create energy. The hull is used in dairies and feedlots to feed to livestock." There's even an attempt to make tires out of almond hulls, Holtermann said: "Nothing is wasted on an almond tree. All of it is used."

Almond advocate
Nearly eight years ago, Holtermann launched a blog about life on the farm: "I wanted a place to share a day in the life of our farm, a family farm," she said. "There's so much information readily available on the internet, and so much wrong information. I wanted a place that somebody could go and look up and find actual facts about almond farming and how our family farm does things—to put that face to that farmer." Advocating for farmers also led Holtermann to service on the boards of the Kern County Farm Bureau, where she is second vice president, and the California Farm Bureau.

Last summer, Holtermann jumped into the e-commerce arena with almonds and gifts sold under the Almond Girl label. "Those are our almonds, fresh from our family farm," she said. "I wanted a place for the consumer to be able to not just see the farmer, but also be able to help support the family farmer." The enterprise has taken off: "I feel like every day, I'm shipping to a new state, a new place. It's really cool to see how far my reach has already expanded. … I've been shipping product to Maine, to Texas, to Florida—all over. It's been really cool to see how people find out about me."

California's bounty
Holtermann is proud to farm in a state that grows more than 400 kinds of crops. "That gives the general Californian the opportunity to have such fresh, local food available pretty much all year round," she said. "You can go to your grocery store, you can go to a roadside stand, you can look up on the internet, and you can find a farmer near you that is growing basically anything. That is such a tremendous opportunity to eat the fresh, local food coming right here from your own backyard. Not everybody has that opportunity."

Kevin Hecteman

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