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FAT UNCLE FARMS


The Almond Excursion
WRITTEN BY ILA RUTTEN

One morning Chocolate Maya (my mom), and I left the sweet scent of jasmine blooming in Santa Barbara for a more unusual olfactory treat. We were heading out to Wasco, CA, otherwise known as the almond capitol of the world. Nate Siemens of Fat Uncle Farms had invited us to see the farm: his home. Aside from a brief pit stop at Santa Barbara Pistachio Farm, we reached the farm in about three hours. A glorious bouquet instantly greeted us as we stretched our wooden legs and stepped out the car. Under a slate-grey sky, an army of white trees overwhelmed the town, inundating its citizens in their honeyed scent. The almond trees surrounded us in every direction. Each tree is tucked into an infinite-long row, until the row meets the horizon and the two become indistinguishable. From far away the tree branches look like spindly eyelashes that have gathered snow on their tips. The sight is breathtaking.

Nate’s family works hard, and life is perhaps not as romantic as the dreamy rows of almond trees suggest. However, the Siemens warmly welcomed us and inaugurated us into the hustle and bustle of farm-upkeep. First mom and I followed Nate’s tow-headed and thoughtful daughter Christabel to gather hay for the farm’s goats, then Nate treated us and our loot to an authentic hayride on the back of his pickup. We poked around the groves of the almond trees with our hands in our jeans, still a little drugged by the scent of the almond blossoms. Each blossom secrets a delicate, floral scent, barely shielding warm undertones of sticky honey. I noticed that each almond tree had a scar near its base. Nate later explained that the lesions were result of a farming phenomenon called grafting. A sapling of one type of tree is tied to the base of another until the plants mesh and grow as a single tree. Every almond tree in the farm was growing out of the rooted base of an apricot tree, which is immune to a variety of diseases common to almond trees.

The afternoon slipped into evening. As mom and I prepared to thank our hosts and leave, Nate made a proposal that neither of us could refuse. We had the opportunity to peak into the intricate society of Fat Uncle Farm’s MVPs: bees. Nate escorted us one at a time to the hives. Bekki Siemens lent me some clogs, and the couple helped me step into a billowy astronaut suit. The walk from the front door to the beehives was only a few yards, but the short march felt grandiose as the giddiness of adventure heightened. The hives are nondescript wooden boxes that suggest nothing of the populace thriving in sticky gold. First, Nate lifts the box’s topmost covering to reveal intimately spaced racks. A few bees hover out of the hive to scout out the disturbance. Then, Nate slides out one of the vertical trays, offering the first look into bee-life. Like peeping into the lit windows of a full apartment complex, I feel shy spying on the little members of this populace. Curled bees, babies, and pools of honey lie in neatly woven hexagons. My bashfulness quickly evaporated with the threatening cloud of bees that darkened the space around Nate and I. Nate explained the importance of bees on the almond farm and their role as primary pollinators. I drifted in and out of attentiveness, daydreaming about a dish of Fat Uncle Farms raw almonds drizzled in a thick fragrant honey. Thank you Siemens family for the visit to Fat Uncle Farms: a sensory-rewarding peek behind one of Santa Barbara’s most beloved farmer’s market businesses.