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California Dates Shipped Around the World

  • Ade Astuti
  • Susy Tekunan

Dates have been a staple food in the Middle East for thousands of years -- and they are especially consumed by Muslims during Ramadan. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran are the world's top producers of dates -- but the fruit is also grown in the western U.S. state of California. First brought to the region by the Spaniards in the 18th century, the date palm is a lucrative crop for some California farmers -- as we learn in this report by Ade Astuti and Susy Tekunan, narrated by VOA's Bill Rodgers.

Date palms are grown in Coachella Valley -- an irrigated agricultural area in southern California. This irrigated desert valley is the biggest producer of dates in the United States.

Sea View Ranch is one of the prime growers of dates in Coachella Valley. Owner Dennis Jensen says the first dates were brought to the valley in the early 1900s.

"There were some travelers who had been to Morocco, Algeria, and different areas and noticed that our weather and our temperatures were very similar to the climates that they had in that region," explained Jensen. "So a few of them got together and imported some date offshoots into this area and they attempted to raise them and they seem to thrive very well."

Like any fresh fruit, there are many varieties of dates but the pride of Sea View Ranch is the Mejdool variety. It is known as the King of Dates. "It's size, its texture, its quality and the taste -- all seem to come together in one date and because it is the largest of all the dates we know of, they call it the King of Dates."

Demand for dates picks up during Ramadan, and the pace quickens at Sea View's processing plant. Dates are washed and then carefully sorted before being boxed and shipped.

But not all varieties of dates ripen in time for Ramadan, says Dennis Jensen. "They follow Mother Nature's cycle. When it's time to be ripe, which is usually in September, they'll be ripe. So, every year, Ramadan will show up about ten days earlier and consequently our date supply for the beginning of Ramadan wasn't there. So a lot of these dates will be frozen for Ramadan for the following year."

The product of these and other date plantations in Coachella Valley are shipped around the world, including Europe and the Middle East.

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