High-rise dates

Vegetable fields ready for planting
Vegetable fields ready for planting

I’m home from the harvest, after a two-day date with the king of dates in Yuma, Arizona.

Day 2 of our Medjool Bloggers Summit began with a Date 101 session over breakfast. Then it was off to the Bard Valley, a strip of desert in the extreme southwest corner of California, 20 minutes from where we sat.

The route took us past miles of flat brown fields that in another two months will be green with lettuce and other vegetable crops, In fact, Yuma calls itself the vegetable capital of the world.

Crossing the bridge over the All American canal, we were suddenly in California.

And there they were … row upon perfect row of tall stately palm trees rising from the desert. The more than 250,000 date palms in the Bard trace their roots to 11 trees brought from Morocco in 1927. Six of the gangly palms live on behind an old packing plant.

I was beginning to wonder just how high we’d be climbing that morning when we stopped in a grove of medium-sized organic trees.

Ghostly bags hung from the canopy of each palm tree, designed to keep the birds and other pests from munching the sweet treats.

Big Six Originals
Big Six Originals

Before we could even step on the horseshoe-shaped platform that would take us up to the dates, we were suited up with a harness and leash that would save us from falling if we happened to reach too far.

suiting up
suiting up – note the leash at left

The metal platform was so sturdy and the hydraulic arm that hoists it up so quiet and gentle, we weren’t even aware of rising 30 feet off the ground. Sure beats ladders, which growers used until a few years ago.

Up in the air!
Up in the air!

Harvesters Felipe and Jose, clad in long pants in the 100-degree heat, showed us how to untie the jute string at the bottom of each bag. Holding an open bag tightly shut with one hand, they reached up with the other to vigorously shake the bunch of dates inside the bag . When they released their bottom hand, a few pounds of dates poured into a waiting plastic tray.

Jose emptying cloth-covered date bunches
Jose emptying a covered bunch of dates

Then it was on to the next bunch.

We each emptied a few bags, and could’ve stayed up a lot longer but there were other bloggers waiting for a trip up the palm tree. We’d never have lasted the 10 hours a day Felipe and his friends work in the 100-degree heat. Because dates ripen unevenly, these guys are up in each tree 25 times in a season to care for and harvest their lucrative crop.


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