BRAWLEY — Doc’s Organics emerged from the need to control the quality of packing and shipping of organic crops grown by her sister company, P&T Enterprises.
“We pack our own fruit. We control the quality of citrus fruit at the packaging warehouse,” said Gina Dockstader, of the family-owned and certified organic only packing facility located north of Brawley.
The Dockstader family farm grows organic citrus varieties and processes them at Doc’s Organics, a company formed in July 2017. Lemons are grown on 450 acres of land; grapefruit, 160 acres; minneolas, 80 acres; and sweet limes, on 50 acres. In addition to citrus, organic date palms are also grown, this time, on 200 acres.
On Friday morning, July 24, freshly picked organically grown lemons were hauled and delivered by semi-trailer trucks to the packing shed. Crew members were on site to receive receptacle bins filled with lemons.
These lemons were transferred into an elaborate conveyor system where they were washed, waxed, graded, boxed, stored, and eventually shipped to buyers in California, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Washington. Citrus fruit are also marketed to Canada and Japan, according to Amanda Lawson, office manager.
A key component in citrus quality is the Aweta machine. “The Aweta machine is used to grade citrus,” said Jesus Chavez, shed manager.
Lemons moving on rows of conveyors were automatically photographed by the Aweta. Instant information analysis of photographs allowed Aweta to automatically categorize, or grade, each fruit according to color, diameter, weight, and even to identify the presence of fungus, according to Chavez. A sticker called PLU (Produce Look Up), that included a bar code and information about the lemon, was automatically glued on each fruit.
The lemons then advanced and dropped into designated tables where crew workers packed them in boxes.
Among the workers were Petrona Romero, Belen Urzua, and Maira Argil. Each one had a face covering and gloves. As lemons from the conveyor rolled toward them, they visually scan the lemons for defects and stored them in boxes. Lemons that were good, but may not appeal to customers, were placed in a different container, and sold for juice.
Filled boxes were stacked on pallets — which were hauled by forklift operators to a refrigerated storage area. There, they await orders for shipment to buyers.
“All of our citrus fruit and dates are organically grown,” said Dockstader. The designation “organic” means regulated production. “The company goes through a certification process to get the coveted designation. Only certain types of chemicals are approved for organic production.”
While it costs more to grow organically, it also costs more to sell, according to Dockstader. “Organic is a niche in the market. It is marketed as a health product.”
“It tastes juicier,” said Lawson, referring to the taste of an organic lemon. “I don’t have to worry what’s on it.” Among her favorite lemon recipes were lemonade and limoncello — a lemon-flavored Italian liqueur.
For many lemon fans, a glass of lemonade with ice will suffice for the summer heat.