My family and I have eaten Cuties for several years but never realized that they’re grown so near by. Just a few hours south of us, in Maricopa, is Sun Pacific. Sun Pacific, has 30,000 acres of land in California and 20,000 of those acres are dedicated to citrus fruits. In those fields lie rows and rows of Clementine and Murcott trees. From these colorful groves come Cuties we know and love, about 8000 pieces of fruit a day from November to April. That’s where our citrus farm tour began.
Cuties in Maricopa – Field to Restaurant Citrus Farm Tour
Al Bates and Jose Martin helped us make sense of the system here. The way the Cuties are harvested has be done carefully. If the stems left are too long, they will puncture other fruits. If the stem is yanked off or cut too close, it will puncture the skin, making the fruit more susceptible to rotting faster. We got to try our had at harvesting a few. We had to be very careful to hold the clippers properly. Otherwise we could cut our fingers, pinch our hands, or damage the fruit.
It was amazing to see the workers filling bin after bin of Cuties. The more bins they full, the more they’ll be paid. That comes to about $125 to $150 per day with each person collecting some 1500-1800 lbs. The speed and precision we saw in the fields was amazing. I really respect the men and women who work so hard to provide for their families. Plus, the baskets they wear to collect the Cuties get heavy really fast!
Growing Cuties in California
Cuties tend to be more flavorful and juicy than other brands. Many farms have the tree stripped of fruit all at once. Not all the fruit ripens at the same speed so it’s obvious that some will be less ripe at the time of picking. At Sun Pacific, though, harvest is done 2-3 times before trees are stripped empty. Cuties therefore benefit from the extra nutrients from the tree as they are allowed to fully ripen. All Cuties are checked for sweetness, how easy they are to peel, and the absence of seeds.
These varieties of citrus did not always thrive in the area. Farmers found out that they had to trick the trees into thinking they were pregnant (using gibberellic acid) so they wouldn’t drop the fruitlets and to grow faster during season they would normally weaken. It turns out that Cuties are not naturally seedless. So Maricopa is an ideally isolated away from citrus-happy bees that could possibly cross-pollinate the trees with other seeded varieties. That means this little guy could be a bit of a trouble maker here.
So once the fruit is grown and picked, what then? Our next stop was the processing plant where the best and juiciest Cuties make their way into McDonald’s Happy Meal and Might Kids Meals. You can read more about that coming up!
I was invited on an all-expense paid media trip and compensated for my participation/coverage of the event. All opinions are my own.