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Stories from the valley

A Sacramento Valley Specialty

Contributed by Jennifer Harrison

There’s an ancient food growing in the Sacramento Valley. Walnuts are the oldest tree food known to man, dating back to 7,000 B.C. Think about that for a minute. Fast-forward to today, and walnuts are a vital crop in our region. Every fall, these hearty nuts are harvested and eventually make their way from tree to table.

farmer walking through walnut tree grove

Soil and Sun

“The entire Sacramento Valley is a good climate for walnuts,” explained Davin Norene, a third-generation grower with Norene Ranches in Rio Oso. His grandfather started farming in the area in the 1940s, originally growing peaches, but in the 1990s, they moved to walnuts as their perennial crop and have not looked back.

“We grow five varieties on our ranch, which mature at different times. Our warm, dry summers, the cooling influence from the delta breeze, great access to water, and well-draining soil make for perfect conditions for growing walnuts,” added Norene.  

They produce 3.5 to 4 million pounds of walnuts annually, which are shipped domestically and worldwide to places such as the Middle East, Europe, and Japan.

walnuts on tree

Harvest and Health

Walk past a walnut tree, and you’ll see lots of green. That is until late summer when the green hull, the outside casing starts to crack, and you can spy the familiar brown outer shell of the walnut.

“Walnuts are well protected from a food safety standpoint. We can shake the tree and let the walnuts fall ground where they then are swept into windrows,” said Norene.  

walnuts drying

Next, the nuts go to the hulling facility where the hull is removed, the walnuts are sorted, dried, and then shipped to a handler for further processing. 

Traditionally walnuts were utilized in winter months for holiday baking and festivities, but nowadays, the nuts are consumed year-round and increasingly as a nutritious topping on yogurt, in salads, and as a healthy snack.  

 “Walnuts are a wonderful source of protein. They are extremely rich in nutritious plant-based omega-3 essential fatty acids,” detailed Norene.  

 Omega 3’s help everything from the heart to the brain and aid in controlling inflammation throughout the body. It seems the walnut is not only an ancient but also a healthy taste of the Sacramento Valley.