MURRIETA, Calif. — It’s not unusual for the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission to host tours or special events for the media, food bloggers, dietitians or members of the retail or foodservice industries.
What was special about a May 3 outing to a tree nursery, avocado grove and packinghouse is that for the first time the commission put on a day-long educational program that included all of those people at once.
The day was “designed to give a very interactive and engaging experience for the participants who are communicating to our end users — the consumer,” said Jan DeLyser, the commission’s vice president of marketing.
The event was timed to coincide with the start of California’s avocado season.
At Persea Tree Nursery LLC in Fallbrook, Alex Gonzalez, a principal, told how the company develops high-yielding trees that produce several avocado varieties using rootstocks designed to tolerate Southern California’s salty water and conditions like root rot.
At Sierra Pacific Farms Inc., Temecula, owner Scott McIntyre, a third-generation grower, described his operation and commented on the statewide drought.
Effects of the water shortage are greater in the northern avocado growing areas than in the south, he said.
Though Ventura County is in a “state of turmoil” as growers scramble to develop a plan to slash water usage, McIntyre said the southern region is faring fairly well.
Even though the area received only 6 inches of rain this season, far less than the average 16 inches, McIntyre said the region has about a two-year supply of water available, thanks to good water management and water storage programs.
The day wound down at West Pak Avocado Inc., where tour guides, including partner Randy Shoup, showed the 32-year-old company’s 115,000-square-foot facility that opened in Murrieta in 2013.
The system runs 3,200 to 3,500 pieces of fruit a minute, taking 22 color pictures and 22 infrared pictures of every avocado and spotting even minor defects, said Orlando Zuniga, tower supervisor.
Growers can check into the system to learn how their fruit was graded by entering a ticket number.
Lunch at Sierra Pacific for the approximately three dozen participants featured offerings including California avocado turnovers and California avocado turkey burgers and was highlighted by a demonstration from dietitian and commission spokeswoman Katie Ferraro, who showed guests how to make 100-calorie California avocado cucumber cups.
Consumers have an affinity for California avocados, DeLyser said, so the commission is launching a California label initiative that will include Price Look-Up, bar code and “California” stickers that identify the fruit’s origin.