There is a small town 17 miles east of Modesto, California. It is directly south of Waterford. You drive over a bridge that spans the Tuolumne River to a three way stop sign. One mile is the distance and you are in Hickman, California. No town has a name that fits it better. They don’t write songs about a town that has two taco trucks, two markets and a population of 400 people. It is a cross roads stop for the people that work in this mother lode of agricultural activity. This is where Foster Farms’ number one dairy is located. There is the Dave Wilson Nursery here since 1938, a nursery that provides nut and fruit trees for farmers all over the Central Valley. Remember the Frantz oil filter? Those same people run a huge commercial nursery here that supplies trees and shrubs to national big box stores like Home Depot and Orchard Supply.
Annual production for the Hampton Ranch is about 550,000 pounds of walnuts, 180,000 pounds of almonds and 100,000 pounds of kiwi. It also sells and delivers about 200 cords of almond firewood.
The walnuts that we sell and give away are processed in Hughson, California by Alpine Pacific Nut Company. They have as modern a walnut processing facility as you can find anywhere in the world. We sell our crop to them, they shell, sort and pack them. We purchase the walnuts back from them. .
The almonds that we sell and give away are processed by the Hudelson Nut Company also in Hughson. It is the same arrangement as the walnuts.
It seems that roasted almonds are more popular, so we buy the almonds back from Hudelson Nut Company and then we drive them to Chico, California to a company that roasts almonds. The company is called Maisie James. They roast the almonds in a tumbler that rotates 360 degrees. That is not the temperature. It just goes in a circle like a cement kiln and roasts the almonds evenly. People asks “why do you go all the way up to Chico, you can have that done here in Modesto?” Maisie James advertises in AgAlert the California Farm Bureau newspaper. The Hampton that lives on the ranch likes to support the advertisers in that paper.
The Hampton Ranch produces about 100,000 pounds of first grade kiwi per year. There are another 20,000 pounds of kiwi, culls that cannot be sold in a market. Culls are undersized or misshapen fruit. We have our culls put in boxes and held in cold storage. We go down to Reedley and pick them up as we need them. Our main customer since 2008 has been a man who does farmers markets seven days a week. We trade him the kiwis for almond firewood. In 2010 we had 20,000 pounds of culls, we managed to trade or give away 15,000 pounds between December and April.
The Hampton Ranch has sold almond firewood since 2007. In 2006 we took out 20 acres of almond trees. We had a pile of wood that you could climb on top of in about half a day and then look out and see Hickman off to the west about a mile away. It took 3 years to sell that pile of wood. In 2009 we took out 35 acres of almond trees. We sold all that wood eight months after it had been seasoned. We sell the wood from San Jose to Sausalito and from Fremont to Stockton. We sell it in Arnold and Sonora and all over Stanislaus County. When people buy a cord of wood from us, we give them some roasted almonds or shelled walnuts or kiwi culls. That is how we can tell when people call to buy firewood from us and they aren’t sure if they had bought wood from us before. We ask them, did you get a bag of nuts or box of kiwi?