Native Plant Foods!

The children from our Christian school, along with some parents, went on a very interesting field trip a while back. We toured a farm that grows and processes Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis) seeds for oil. The farm was started back in the 70′s – to stop the killing of whales (!), after it was discovered that Jojoba oil is almost identical to Sperm Whale oil. This farm is located near Hyder, AZ and produces most of the Jojoba oil in the US. There are also sources coming online in Israel and Australia.

An old-timer once told me that Jojoba seeds were edible. I have sampled them from time to time when I find them while working out in the desert. They are a little bitter, but I like them! Jojoba bushes grow here in the wild (southern Arizona, southern California and northern Mexico), and have been planted in many native-theme landscapes. We have 5 bushes in our yard, but they are too small to have seeds. There are separate male and female plants, the seeds only being produced by the females.

Here are some photos from the farm:

The Sign Out Front!

Rows of Old Jojoba Plants 1/2 Mile Long!

 Even though Jojoba Plants are native, they are irrigated in this setting. Water is run down the rows between the bushes during the summer. The seeds drop to the ground when ripe. Once they are on the ground, the farmers use big blowers and a vacuum to collect the seeds.

Here is what the Vacuum Picks Up - Lots of Beans, Leaves and Stones.

Separating Plant that Cleans the Seeds.

The seeds, along with the leaves, sticks and stones are run through this plant to clean them. There are various shaker tables, conveyors and blowers that remove all the contaminates and leave bins full of pure Jojoba beans!

Clean Beans!

From here, the beans are shipped to another facility where they are pressed for oil.

This company is in the process of “domesticating” the Jojoba plant! Remember, seeds are only produced on female plants. Male plants are necessary, but one male per hundreds of females is sufficient. If the proportion of female plants can be increased, more oil can be raised per acre. There is also variation in the number of seeds produced per female plant, differences in tolerance for cold, drought, insects, etc, etc. They are trying to take their best female plants and grow more replacement plants with better genetics. Here are some of the steps in the process:

New Jojoba Seedlings from Cuttings - All Clones of the Best Females. See the New Growth?

A Greenhouse Full of Babies!

Larger Seedlings being Hardened Off in a Shade House.

Mark Moody (above) is the farm manager. He is on the cutting edge of this domestication process, experimenting with different techniques to see what works best. They are getting things perfected, and plan to rear and plant more, superior plants in the near future.

Mark also has another project that is his own. He collects, mills and sells Mesquite bean flower. His equipment is located at the Jojoba farm, so we got to see this as well.

Jojoba Beans on the Left, Mesquite Beans on the Right.

Native Americans harvested Mesquite beans as an important part of their diet. The ground the entire pod to make flower which was used in a number of different ways. Mark has begun to do the same thing, with more modern equipment.

The Old Way...

The New Way...

Mark got this mill from an old miner who used it to crush gold ore-containing rock to prepare it for extraction. It uses an electric motor and the transmission from an old truck! Inside the yellow barrel is 150lbs of steel balls which crush the beans. The resulting powder comes out into the green tub. Mark can be seen in the background screening this material.

Here are a Couple of the Steel Balls and the Powder Coming Out.

Mark Screening his Mesquite Flour.

After Mark screens the powder, he returns anything that is too big to the mill. Eventually everything is reduced to a very fine powder!

Here is Where the Farm Makes Compost!

There is a lot of waste with the leaves, sticks (mainly Jojoba) and Mark has started composting their waste materials. Here he is showing us their finished compost. It is great for gardens!

The idea of planting a perennial crop once, and harvesting repeatedly (for years, if not decades!) is very appealing! The idea of using native plants for this purpose is doubly exciting! What Mark and the Desert Whale Jojoba Company are doing with Mesquites and Jojoba plants is a wonderful endeavor and I wish them the best of luck!

Goodbye! We Enjoyed the Tour, and I Hope You Did Too!