Recently we asked avocado farmer Noel Stehly of Stehly Farms Organics in Valley Center, CA:
Q: If an avocado were an animal, what would it be?
A: It would be a jaguar because it is sleek and beautiful.
That's quite fitting for an avocado, as it is an ancient fruit of the Aztec where jaguars were totemic, the Jaguar warriors being the elite guards. Those of us who adore the avocado can understand why the Aztecs treasured it and considered it “king's food.” Earliest evidence of their cultivation is 750 B.C., yet the migration of the avocado is disputed. Whether it traveled from the Western coast of the South American Incan empire to the cultures of Mesa America or migrated with the Aztec empire southward is still a point of contention.
In our current era, San Diego, CA is the avocado stronghold, producing 60 percent of our nation’s green gold. This is where Stehly (pronounced stay-lee) Farms Organics has their orchards, in Valley Center, west of Carlsbad. Avocados grow on sub-tropical trees, enjoying the warm sunshine and frost-free living in San Diego County.
The avocado treasure on Stehly's farm is truly green. The farm employs many energy-neutral and sustainable farming practices. They fuel their tractors with 100 percent bio-diesel.
“Fifty percent of our road trucks run with bio-diesel as well,” says Jared Bray, who wears the sales hat at this family operation. “This limits our need to purchase diesel, disposes of waste oil in a environmentally-friendly manner, and cuts down on burning up natural resources.” Their current solar energy production is nearly 200 kilowatts, which covers 85 percent of their power needs.
Avocados on Stehly's farm thrive in the mild weather, the fertile soil, and the abundant water. The ample hills aid in irrigation, as do their compost and mulching practices. Water is the most precious and precarious resource for San Diego farmers. The early March rain was a nice boon for them. “Nothing like free water!" they said on their FaceBook page. “We worked closely with the National Resources Conservation Service to upgrade our irrigation systems. This saves us money from purchasing water, and also protects the limited water supply that we have in Southern California,” adds Jared.
Winter is the chief harvest time for a variety of avocados, but the cultivars are staggered so consumers can enjoy their subtle differences all year. At Stehly, they grow Bacon, Fuerte, Hass, Zutano, and the lesser-known Reed Avocado. Reeds are the round ones, sometimes called “softballs,” and can grow to weight up to a pound; Bacons are smooth; Fuerte has an elegant shape; and pebbly-skinned Hass has become America's go-to avocado. Hass is a true California native, patented by postman Rudolph Hass in 1935.
Besides the great taste and texture of avocados, the health benefits are extensive:
- Protein: 5.78% DV (daily value)—essential constituents of living cells, consists of amino acids, essential for growth and tissue repair.
- Vitamin K: 36.5% DV—necessary for proper blood clotting.
- Vitamin E: 9.8% DV—an important vitamin that also acts as a powerful antioxidant, which helps to protect cells against damage caused by free radicals.
Avocados are a fruit. They even come in their own compostable bowl. Simply cut avocado in half, twisting apart, and remove the pit by carefully thwacking the knife to grab the pit, or spoon the pit away. Slice your “avo” inside the shell, sprinkle with a little juice from a lemon or lime, sprinkle with sea salt, and enjoy “out of the boat.” Avocado ripening can be hastened by the company of an apple or banana, and held in the fridge for a few days.