ADVENTURES WITH SPORK FOODS
A TRIP TO SUMO CITRUS
We jump at the chance to see how all food gets to our table. We’ve toured everything from bread factories, to pistachio farms, to sauce manufacturers, and every time we learn to further appreciate what it takes to serve our hungry population. When we were invited to get a peek behind the curtain of Sumo Citrus, we packed up and headed to the Central Valley right away. You may be familiar with Sumo Citrus because it has a signature top knot, it’s juicy and seedless, has a balance of perfect sweetness and tartness, and is only harvested for a few short months of the year, January through April.
We were lucky enough to be on a guided tour of the nursery, field, and packing plant where Sumo Citrus are cultivated, harvested and hand-packed. Sumo Citrus comes from a Japanese mandarin variety that has only been growing in California for just over a decade. The seedlings are grafted by hand on specially designed swiveling tables. The more mature trees are housed in greenhouses with a mechanized driverless train that is unique to the citrus growing world and feels both futuristic and old school like an episode of Mr. Rogers.
The mastermind behind these innovations is the General Manager, Roger Smith. His care for the well being of the crops and employees can be seen at every turn. He invented specially designed tables that shift to make room for the nursery staff so they don’t have to bend and hurt their backs. He invented a unique root growing system that benefits the seedlings and is now used amongst competitors since it’s so innovative. They even use re-purposed coconut pulp as soil for growing the trees. These mandarins aren’t treated just like any other citrus. From seed they are given the royal treatment.
The plant where these large beauties are packed feels like the set of a movie because the bright orange packing boxes float through the facility, suspended above rows of Sumo Citrus being hand sorted and gently placed in their shipping boxes.
There is a special Japanese curing process that all of the Sumo Citrus goes through to help balance the tartness and sweetness in each fruit, making each piece perfect.
What struck us as so unique and fun about being at the Sumo Citrus plant was that all of the employees, from the marketing and sales team in the offices, to the people sorting and packing on the floor of the plant were all having a great time. There was happy banter and everyone seemed excited about being a part of the team in a genuine way. We love to have a good time at work, so we appreciate that they do too!
That afternoon we set out into the fields to see the large citrus hanging from the trees. It was a magical experience. Imagine the scent of thousands upon thousands of citrus trees in bloom. The growers take a lot of care to avoid spraying with pesticides including adding a special clay to the trees which acts as a natural sunscreen. The fruit is thinned by hand so that the citrus that reaches your grocery store lives up to its large Sumo Citrus name.
All in all the experience of visiting the Sumo Citrus plant just deepens our love of food and all of the care and time it takes to feed us. Next time you look at your fruit salad – just take a second to think about how lucky you are to enjoy it.