Almonds. They're tasty as heck, but sometimes they get a pretty bad rap.
Lately, these nuts have been getting singled out as a big contributing factor in California's water crisis. So what's the deal?
It's true that it takes over one gallon of water to produce a single almond, but that's not the whole story.
But many other California crops, like walnuts and tomatoes, require even more water ... and even these don't begin to compare to the water required to produce other types of food.
Plus, almonds are a big contributor to California's economy.
"Almonds are but one piece of the Californian agricultural industry," explains Tim Richards, a California almond butter producer. "[But] because almonds are such a notorious cash crop, they get the worst rap."
Tim, the owner of a California almond butter company, is trying to change that.
Tim is the owner of The Philosopher's Stoneground, a nut butter company based in Santa Cruz. He describes his company as "the first drought-adapted almond butter company."
The almonds Tim uses are unique in that they're farmed using traditional techniques of "dry farming" instead of mainstream modern irrigation practices.
Dry farming is pretty straightforward, says Tim. "Irrigate the trees when they are first planted, then perhaps once more 10 days later, then let them go!" In the right climate, the trees will thrive.
The process of dry farming may seem simple, but it's not without its obstacles.
Centuries ago, almonds would have been almost exclusively dry farmed. But over the decades, farmers have turned to irrigation-heavy methods, which produce higher yields and allow farmers to keep up with demand.
Irrigation techniques also allow almonds to be grown where, according to Tim, "they should not be growing: in the desert regions of [California's] Central Valley."
That's why Tim chose to take part in an experimental dry-farmed almond orchard project in the Capay Valley near Sacramento. For many years, almonds in the Capay Valley (which is home to the 100-year-old Almond Festival) were dry farmed, and Tim hopes to help rekindle that tradition.
Being a small nut butter producer isn't easy, but Tim is determined to see his company — and his almond products — thrive.
When I asked Tim what has been the most challenging part of running The Philosopher's Stoneground, he replied: "Running a business! It's easy to make and sell food, but there is much more to running a food business than that."
Recently, Tim raised $5,000 for a loan on Kiva Zip, which will provide funding for The Philosopher's Stoneground to move into a larger production facility. The crowdfunded loan even got a boost from Tillamook Co-Op members — the co-op works hard to support community real-food projects.
Tim and his team are hoping their expansion will help them keep up with demand and open an e-commerce site. As he explained on his Kiva page, "Our biggest challenge [is] producing enough to feed [all our customers], let alone the inquiries we get globally!"
For someone who says he's "not a business person by nature," Tim's nut butter company seems to be off to a very promising (and delicious) start. Companies like this — that value the health of consumers and the Earth — are so essential to the future of farming.