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Dried fruit keeps family business fresh

The Marianis build on a 105-year tradition, becoming the world's largest family-owned producer of dried fruit.


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Like any other farmer, Sam Nevis knows that getting his harvest in and on time is crucial, even though you won't be seeing his just-picked plums in the produce section of the market. That's because you'll be seeing them as dried plums, otherwise known as prunes. And there's no better place for finding some of the best dried plums than California.

The state's greatest dried plum production occurs in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. Farmers there produce more dried plums than the rest of the world combined. They harvest 96 tons of fruit a day during peak season, with nearly all of the harvesting done by machines now. A mechanical shaker grabs a tree's main limb and, in a matter of seconds, shakes the fruit onto a fabric catching frame spread underneath. From there, it's a quick conveyor ride to bins destined for the dehydrator. And in case you are wondering—they're prunes in the field and dried plums after they've gone to the dehydrator.

The next step in the life of a prune, soon to become a dried plum, happens at the nearby dehydrator. There the fruit is thoroughly washed and then placed on large wooden trays. Next, the fruit is wheeled into these huge ovens where the temperature reaches upwards of 185 degrees and in a matter of hours (18 to be exact), voila! You've got dried plums.

Then they're off to their next stop—Mariani Packing Co. in Solano County, the largest family-owned producer of dried fruit in the world. Paul Mariani started the business in 1906 and now it is up to grandson Mark Mariani to carry on the family tradition of packaging and marketing some of the Golden State's best fruit. At headquarters in Vacaville, trained personnel inspect the fruit, grade it for size and then package it. While dried plums are one of the family's biggest sellers, they also package other California-grown fruit like raisins, dates, dried apricots and dried berries.

Mariani Packing Co. processes about 100 million pounds of fruit a year, so quality is of the utmost importance. And for that they rely on farmers like Sam to keep this family tradition going.

"I really am proud to be a Mariani grower," he said. "You wake up and think, 'I can grow a good crop and provide it to people who put it out there in a nice pack.' It makes you feel good!"

For more information about the Mariani Packing Co. and for recipes using dried plums, visit www.mariani.com.


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