When Gorilly Goods was first looking for walnuts to use in our Original variety, we called Fillmore Farms in Gridley, CA. This family business is dedicated to using organic, Earth-friendly methods. They were right in line with what we were looking for. Brit answered the phone and so pleasantly gave me the information of the types and grades of walnuts available. It was a gift to be able to be in the circle of businesses receiving these clean, nutritious top quality nuts. We’ve been using them ever since that first phone call and hope to evermore. So we thought it was about time you get to know where those delicious walnuts in our snacks come from. Take a look.
Q: What prompted the Fillmore Family to go into the walnut business?
A: We have historically grown many different crops -- each with varying demands for labor and equipment. Walnuts seem to be the best mix of labor and equipment to suit our family farm at this time. They also happen to be really healthful and taste great!
Q: How long has your family been growing and processing walnuts? Are many family members involved?
A: We have grown walnuts for many years (possibly over 50) but in commercial quantities only for the last twenty or so. We have been commercially processing for about six years. Our family has grown a number of tree and open-field crops in the last 100 years we have been farming in Gridley (1917-2017). We have several generations of Fillmores involved in the business, depending on time of year and labor demands. We fluctuate between 6 and 12 family members directly involved. Everyone seems to get involved at harvest time!
Q: How old is a walnut tree before it produces usable nuts?
A: English (or Persian) walnuts are almost always grafted to a black walnut based root stock. From the initial sprout of the seedling until the first real harvest is usually around seven years. Younger trees will produce a nut or three, but not in commercially useful quantities. They are also still very fragile, so cannot be harvested mechanically.
Q: Has the growing/picking/sorting process changed through the years?
A: Yes indeed! In the early days of walnut cultivation in California, farm workers would harvest the walnuts by knocking them from the branches with poles and picking them up by hand. Over time the pole knocking evolved through several methods of tree shaking to the machines we use today. We also pick up most of the nuts from the ground with machines, saving hours of back-breaking labor. I'm not sure we would have chosen to have a walnut farm 100 years ago! The processing equipment has also changed dramatically. I don't know what my grandfather would have thought about our laser sorter, but I certainly appreciate it.
Q: What are the challenges of weather for walnut growing?
A: Walnuts need a Mediterranean climate with enough cold days in the winter and enough warm days with water in the spring and summer. Too much of either at the wrong time can destroy or dramatically reduce a crop or an entire orchard. Fortunately, our family settled in an area of California well suited to walnut production and it currently has the weather we need. Variations in the weather such as a late frost or too little rainfall over winter can have a significant negative impact on the amount and quality of the crop.
Q: What is most rewarding about the Fillmore Farms business?
A: Our happy customers! Seriously, it is very rewarding to be able to work together as a family to provide a quality, healthful product to people who value it. The positive feedback we get from customers brightens up our days and makes the work worthwhile.