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Idaho Enterprise

Where does food come from?

Mar 29, 2023 01:11PM ● By Allison Eliason

I have a confession to make- I don’t know where my food comes from.  Don’t worry, I know that my food comes from hard working farmers and ranchers and doesn’t magically appear in the grocery, but I have to admit that there are some foods out there that I love that I just don’t really know what it takes to get those scrumptious edibles to my plate.  

Now while I admit that there are some things about where food comes from that I don’t know, I’m not as clueless as some.  You know, those consumers that ask questions like, “What cows make chocolate milk?” and “why can’t people just get their meat from the grocery store instead of cows?”  I used to always think that these stories were over exaggerated or made up altogether until I overheard such a question at the grocery store.  I couldn’t believe that there were people out there so disconnected with where their food comes from.

But the truth is, we could all use a little work to understand what it takes for our food to be grown, especially on a large scale.  I decided to do a little research on some of my favorite foods and, I’ll admit, there were some things I was pretty surprised about.

First I looked up cranberries because I wanted to know if the OceanSpray commercials were legit.  Yes, they really do harvest cranberries in their waders!  Cranberries grow in swampy lands and when harvest time rolls around, those swamps are flooded.  The farmers then go into the flooded swamps, clad in their waders, and loosen the berries off the vines.  The cranberries float to the top where they are skimmed together in piles to be collected.  Wet harvesting isn’t the only way cranberries are picked.  There is a dry method where a picker, looking much like a lawn mower, is driven over cranberry patches that are able to comb off and collect the cranberries.  Who knew?!

Next I was curious to learn about nuts.  There are such a variety of nuts out there and now I know that they don’t all grow or are harvested in the same way.  It’s no surprise to learn that almonds grow on trees but I was surprised to learn that it takes years before almond trees will yield their first nuts but then will produce for nearly three decades if well cared for.  After the nuts have matured and the shells have split, it is time for the harvest.  The trees are mechanically shaken to make the almonds fall to the ground where they will be swept into windrows and gathered up.  

Peanuts on the other hand grow underground.  And although we consider them ‘nuts’ they are really just dried out legumes that are grown in pods much like a pea or a bean.  Little yellow flowers begin to grow on the peanut plant and once pollinated, will turn into a peg, which is the beginning of the shelled peanut or pod.  The pegs eventually work their way into the soil where they will begin to grow the pods and the “nut” inside.  A single plant can grow up to 40 pods!  After 150 days of growing, the pods are harvested by carefully digging up the plant and laying them in a windrow to dry for two to three days.  When sufficiently dried, they are run through the combine to take the pods off the vine.

I know we have all seen mushrooms growing out in the wild, but I was curious to learn how mushrooms are grown on a large scale.  Interestingly enough, most large scale mushroom farms grow their products indoors.  Unlike other plants, mushrooms don’t contain chlorophyll which means that they don’t require sunlight to grow.  What they do require is the right amount of nutrients, warm temps, soil conditions, and of course, water.  Indoor mushroom farms are able to dial in on the exact temperature and humidity for their crops, creating the perfect environment for the best product.  Another upside of indoor mushroom farming is that producers can grow year round and not just during the regular growing season, bringing in more consistent income than they would have otherwise.

Avocados aren’t a favorite of mine, but I was still curious how they grow.  After a little research I was surprised to learn that several seasons of fruit will grow at once on an avocado tree.  Avocados will mature on the tree but they don’t fully soften and ripen until they are picked.  They can sit mature on the tree for months without ripening and without going bad.  This means that while one season of fruit has become mature, a second season can begin growing.  This makes harvesting avocados a little tricky because a picker will have to be sure that the fruit they pull off are mature and ready.

While I don’t love avocados, I do love pineapples and since they don’t grow anywhere near Idaho, it's no surprise that I don’t know much about pineapple farming.  Commercial pineapple growers face a lot of challenges to get those perfect pineapples we all love.  From planting to the first harvest can take up to 18 months, the plants not even flowering until a year after planting.  Pineapple plants require a Iot of water, which is why they are grown in tropical areas with significant rainfall.  But without enough rainfall, irrigating can be tricky.  The plants have shallow roots which can provide another challenge.  If the plant doesn’t sit flat and the base of it shifts, the fruit will then develop lopsided, leading to uneven growth and ripening.  Growing pineapples can be slow and tedious, but no one can deny that all that hard work and waiting is totally worth it when you bite into a tasty pineapple.

This is just a small taste of the yummy foods we enjoy with unique growing, harvesting, and processing methods.  Seeing just what it takes to grow all of these different kinds of foods helps me appreciate all the farmers around the world and the efforts they put into growing their crops.  Because our food doesn’t “just come from a grocery store.”  Every delectable bite takes a lot of time, dedication, and endurance from our farmers.  Knowing and understanding where our food comes from makes it even that much sweeter to enjoy

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