Above is Michelle Cloutier next to a macadamia nut tree. Michelle and her husband are owners of the Rio Frio Macadamia Nut Farm.
In the previous entry, I shared pictures and information on how macadamia nut trees are grown at the Rio Frio Macadamia Nut Farm. Getting the nuts to reach maturity and the quality desired requires careful pruning along with the arrival of cooler weather in the months of January and February. Then its harvest time for those nuts that have developed properly and escaped the jaws of hungry squirrels, worms, and diseases.
When harvest season arrives, the farm hires one family (3 women, 3 men, and Michelle’s sister in law, Virginia) to pick up nuts around the whole farm every 7-10 days or so. Collection of nuts during harvest season is required on a weekly basis since it occurs during rainy seasons. During the months of September and October, the whole family works about 3 days each week.
The processing plant is where the nuts are husked, washed, and dried before going to an additional room for final weighing and packaging.
After harvesting, it is time for the journey to be continued at the processing plant. The husking process (removal of outer shell) is fascinating to watch because of the unique machinery required. Also interesting to discover are the different stages that have to take place between the development on a tree to finally getting packaged. The shortest time from beginning of harvest to completion would be about 10 days. The nuts are picked one day, husked the next and then 8 days of drying in a large Brock bin. The nuts are then processed and packaged the following day.
With a flip of a switch, the husker machine begins rotation. The rapid action helps to crack the hard outer layer of the macadamia nut. Above is a nut whose husk has been completely removed. The nut still must go through the washing and drying steps before it is ready for shipping.
The inedible outer husks are dispelled out the side of the processing plant from a metal shoot. The husks are recycled by being used in mulching for landscaping and gardens!
After the outer husk is removed, the nuts go into a large Brock bin (silo used for storing corn). Inside, the nuts are blown with dry air to lower their moisture content so they can be safely held. Above, are the dryers which are powered by propane gas.
Next, the nuts are transported to the processing room. For processing there are about 20 women and 2 regular men workers that participate. Last year, they worked with just a few women 2 days each in February and March. Starting in June, they had the entire crew work about 3 days, in August about 6, September 8 days, and November about 12 days. Last year, they processed the equivalent of about 12 tons of nuts (weight in husk) in September and another 12 tons in November.
These women are sorting through nuts.
Above, is the sorter where nuts are able to be sorted by size. They fall through the various wholes.
The Rio Frio Macadamia Nut Farm started exporting nuts in 1992 and has exported to the US and even to Europe up until 2000. But, ever since then, they have been able to sell their nuts in the country. They sell small boxes that have been packaged at the farm for distribution to souvenir shops in the Arenal/Tilaran area. The bulk of their nuts are sold in 25 lb. bags to commercial users in San Jose who either repackage, chocolate coat, roast and put in granola or candy.
Now they are ready to eat and enjoy!
Elizabeth’s Traveling Tips: When touring a farm in Costa Rica, always protect your hands, legs, and feet. Produce on the farm attracts scorpions, large spiders, bats, mice, squirrels, birds, which then attracts snakes including Boa Constrictors!