Mexico's Sustainable Avocado Mecca

By Rowan Jacobsen, "Avocado Heaven," March/April 2010

Growing avocados in Mexico and delicious recipes to try.

Such production takes tremendous quantities of water, which isn’t a problem in this semitropical paradise. From May to October, the mountains are drenched in rain. What doesn’t get sucked up by the trees trickles into the porous aquifer, resurfacing in the sparkling rivers that lace the region. Cisterns in the orchards catch the water to supply the trees during the dry season.

Unlike any other avocado region in the world, avocado trees in Michoacán bloom twice, and it’s not unusual to see fruit and flowers on the same tree. With temperatures softly oscillating between 50° and 80°F, trees can choose their schedule; there’s no killer frost hanging over the day planner. It takes an avocado about 12 months to mature, but it won’t soften until picked; if left on the tree, it will continue to put on fat for an additional six months. It doesn’t just stay good; it gets better. Mountainous Michoacán, whose orchards range in altitude from 3,000 to 8,000 feet, also benefits from a multitude of microclimates. Any given week of the year, some orchard here is at the peak of ripeness. This unique flexibility allows Michoacán to ship premium, fresh-picked fruit year-round.

Due to the drought, recent California avocado harvests have been barely large enough to supply the West Coast. Michoacán supplies most of the rest of the country. In fact, Michoacán supplies nearly half the world’s avocados. More than 200,000 acres of verdant avocado orchards blanket every hill in the region. It’s the kind of success you have when you grow a crop where it wants to grow—indeed, where it has grown for thousands of years. And it’s a vital support for a state that in the past four decades has sent millions of people to the U.S. in search of work. Today 300,000 Michoacáns are directly or indirectly employed in the avocado industry. The graceful, colonial-era cities bustle with shops and shoppers, and the tables in the street markets groan under the weight of freshly harvested fruits, vegetables, herbs and fish.

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