Recently, I was able to participate in a field trip to a California tomato grower on the northwest side of Woodland, CA and then visit the cannery where the tomatoes harvested from this field were processed. The tour was sponsored by the Sacramento based produce distributor, Produce Express.
Produce Express is a locally-owned distributor who specializes in sourcing produce within 50 miles of Sacramento. The farm the tour visited grows for DiNapoli Tomato Products.
The DiNapoli family once owned their own cannery, but now contracts with Pacific Coast Producers to can tomatoes grown for DiNapoli. Robert DiNapoli was on the tour and gave the group a lot of insight into the growing and canning of tomatoes. As you might guess from the name, the DiNapoli family came from the area around Naples, Italy.
Much of California’s produce cornucopia is raised in the Sacramento and San Joaquin (Central) Valley areas. Woodland is located north west of Sacramento. Forty percent of the produce grown in the U.S. comes from California.
Humorous aside – note Rio Linda in the upper right of the map. This is the “for the folks in Rio Linda” Rush Limbaugh often refers to, an inside joke dating to his days as a broadcaster on KFBK, Sacramento.
At first glance, I thought that farming hasn’t changed much since the days when my paternal grandfather tilled his fields in the Texas panhandle. Was I ever wrong! Modern farmers implement science and technology to produce more on less land with less water. For example, the farm we visited uses underground irrigation to water the crops. Plastic water pipes buried below the crop allow more efficient watering of the roots, minimizing evaporation and run off. The tractors are now guided by GPS, insuring more accurate planting and more efficient use of the land.
The California tomato harvest is in full swing now. Many farms are harvesting around the clock. A mechanical harvester goes through the fields accompanied by a truck pulling tandem trailers into which the tomatoes are loaded.
Note in the photo above, the field to the right of the harvester and under the truck has been stripped of the tomato vines. The field is stripped immediately after the harvest and preparation for the next crop in that field has already begun.
Each trailer holds about 10,500 pounds of tomatoes. The trucks go directly from the fields to the cannery in Woodland. At peak harvest, the cannery is processing some 350 loads of tomatoes a day. In addition to the DiNapoli tomato products, Pacific Coast Producers packs most of the private label tomato products sold in some 50,000 supermarkets across the U.S. The plant also packs many tomato products for restaurant and food service uses. Pacific Coast’s Woodland plant is a huge, sophisticated facility capable of producing a wide variety of tomato products. Besides tomato products, Pacific Coast Producers packs other vegetables and fruits. Another nearby tomato processing facility is the Campbell Soup Company plant in Dixon, CA (about 17 miles from Woodland) that supplies 90% of the tomato ingredients used throughout Campbell’s operations.
The Campbell Soup tomato processing plant, Dixon, CA
We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the plant, but Pacific Coast Producers has this nice five minute video that gives an excellent overview of the operation. It has some shots of the plant that I wouldn’t have been able to take even if photography had been allowed. A couple of the scenes will give you a good idea of how busy the plant is during harvest. Click to play:
A big hat tip to Produce Express, Robert DiNapoli and Pacific Coast Producers for a fun and educational field trip.
Speaking of Italian Style Tomatoes … Click >>HERE<<