Where Do Imperfect Grapes Come From?
Supporting farmers means more than buying their produce. It means building empathy. We can do this by understanding what it takes to farm economically and sustainably in an industry that’s both unpredictable and demands perfection. To deepen our understanding and relationship with our farmers we took a trip to Fresno, in the heart of California's Central Valley, to meet with one of our grape growers: Three Sisters Organics.
Three Sisters gets its name from Natalie Soghomonian, the middle of three daughters, and the only one who returned to the farm where she grew up to become the Vice President and Director of Farming Operations. The Soghomonian family has been growing grapes in Fresno, California for three generations. Natalie's grandfather was an Armenian immigrant who started farming in the late 1930s on 40 acres of land that he shared with a partner. After Natalie's father Joe joined the farm in the 1960s, the ranch grew to 500 acres and they became one of the first organic grape growers in the state.
Today, Natalie continues growing organically and takes great pride in farming sustainably with a commitment to quality over quantity. The amazing flavor and sweetness unique to Three Sister's grapes come from Natalie's decision not to focus on yields. This means she has less fruit to harvest but her decision not to “over crop” the fields allows the vines to pour more of their energy into each grape. Like her father, Natalie's passion for organic farming is tied to her family and the land. Her two daughters, Mia and Alina, are always out in the fields with her, so maintaining the land naturally without harmful chemicals is a must. To manage pests and weeds naturally, Natalie relies on beneficial insects, cover crops, and lots of hard work while paying close attention to the needs of her vines each week.
Being organic and committed to sustainability isn’t easy. With limited options for dealing with pests, weeds and the oppressive 105 F degree heat, grapes routinely get damaged and imperfections in size, color and shape are common. While bugs, disease, and the heat play a big part in creating “ugly” grapes, Natalie says that the bigger problem is that supermarkets won’t buy many of her grapes because they assume consumers think a more uniform grape is better. Even though “ugly” grapes from Three Sisters don’t meet fresh market standards, the difference in shape, color, or size has no influence on their sugar content and amazing flavor.
Our visit to Fresno taught us that the way grapes look couldn’t matter less, and reminded us that buying “ugly” grapes couldn’t matter more. When you buy “ugly” produce from Imperfect, you help family farmers like Natalie make a better living from all of their hard work, and give them the opportunity to see their product enjoyed how it was intended: fresh! Natalie stressed that with all the labor it takes to grow grapes, it's important to her that consumers get to enjoy her grapes fresh rather than as raisins or juice, which don’t earn her nearly as much money and are often mixed together with grapes of other grades and quality. Working with Imperfect not only provides Natalie and her family with a better livelihood, but lets her amazing grapes be enjoyed as they were meant to be, instead of as raisins, juice, or even animal feed.
When you buy grapes from Imperfect, you’re helping reduce waste and preserve quality and integrity in food production, all while making farming more equitable for families like the Soghomonians. Our trip to Three Sister Organics reminded us of the value these relationships create and showed us how all of us can work to nourish what’s important in our food system.