Tenderly Rooted Farm in Biggs Pivots to Sprouted Walnuts

The Kramer family is the third generation to own the farm.
The Kramer family is the third generation to own the farm. Photo courtesy of Tenderly Rooted

The difference between sprouted walnuts and shelled walnuts.

Ahead of the harvest season, a few walnut shells dot the ground under healthy, tall treetop canopies at the Tenderly Rooted farm in Biggs, Calif. Owner Kaben Kramer cracks open one of the walnuts that have fallen to the ground, and peers inside at the meat. It resembles a human brain, which is appropriate considering walnuts are excellent brain food.

His wife and Tenderly Rooted co-owner Jenn comes out with their baby Hartley — named after the family’s original walnut trees — in tow.

A Family Legacy

This multigenerational family farm originated with Kaben’s great-grandfather Chester Hoar, who bought the property in 1947. He planted nine acres of walnut trees on the 50 or so acres of land. Kaben’s parents, Steve and Lori Kramer, farmed it for 40 years before Kaben and Jenn took it over just before the pandemic. Like so many other businesses across multiple industries, the global health threat nearly ended their operation.

Although there are fellow walnut farmers all around them, the Kramers do a few things differently than their neighbors. Tenderly Rooted farm uses composting and cover crops, and introduces beneficial insects to take care of problem bugs instead of spraying their trees with pesticides.

While walking through the walnut tree grove, Kaben bends down to feel the soil. It’s rich, soft, and a little damp. He explains that Tenderly Rooted’s ecological irrigation practices keep the moisture near the top, creating a dense ground cover filled with lots of beneficial microbial properties.

Rich orchard soil.
Rich orchard soil. Photo by Kayla Anderson

“There cannot be nutrition in our food if there isn’t nutrition in the soil,” Kaben says, pointing up to the trees as he explains that the sun, atmosphere, and soil all create the energy, mass, and nutrition we need to thrive. “We’re literally looking at carbon sequestration,” Kaben emphasizes. “It’s one reason why I love trees.”

How Covid Changed Walnut Farming

When the couple ventured into walnut farming, they were informed that $1 per pound was the lowest market price. The Kramers aimed to break even at $0.80 per pound. With the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, they earned $0.65 per pound, prompting concern. Overnight, global walnut demand plummeted, compounded by shipping delays. In 2021, port container issues led to a surplus by 2022, driving prices from $0.78 to $0.24 per pound.

Walnuts scattered on the orchard floor beneath tree canopies at Tenderly Rooted Farm
Walnuts scattered on the orchard floor beneath tree canopies at Tenderly Rooted Farm. Photo courtesy of Tenderly Rooted

“We didn’t move to the farm to get rich, but we did want to raise our family and make a living wage,” Jenn shares about the business. “We found ourselves working for free and losing money on the commodity market and realized we had to do something different.” The family shifted from traditional shelled walnuts to more affordable, higher-value sprouted walnuts, marking the beginning of Tenderly Rooted.

Sprouting Walnuts

The Kramers harvest the whole crop once a year in October. They store the walnuts in their shells, cracking them out as needed. In contrast, while most nuts are cracked months ahead, Kaben and Jenn keep them raw until the last minute.

Eating sprouted walnuts is akin to raw vegetables versus cooked, fresh peaches over canned. Keeping walnuts fresh preserves their nutrients and health benefits, much like other raw foods.

Three walnuts showing different stages: fresh from the shell, dried similar to store-bought, and sprouted and dehydrated. Photo by Kayla Anderson.
The lightest walnut came straight out of the shell, off the tree; the middle walnut is a dried walnut, similar to store bought; and, the third walnut is sprouted and dehydrated. Photo by Kayla Anderson

To sprout walnuts, they must be kept in their shells in cold storage, where they are tricked into thinking they are going to germinate when moisture is added. Right before the walnut sprouts, the moisture is removed.

“We sprout them, dip them in a water bath with flavor, then dehydrate them,” Jenn explains. The sprouting process removes protective layers and tannins from the nut, reducing allergens and phytic acids, resulting in a milder taste.

“You end up with a tastier, healthier walnut.”

Kaben Kramer

The Benefits Of Knowing Your Farmer

Tenderly Rooted sells sprouted walnuts year-round, offering them in six evergreen flavors. Most people sign up for a monthly subscription and get exclusive access to its seasonal flavors and new recipes.

“We love talking directly to the customers, and in turn they know where their food is coming from and can connect to it,” Jenn says. “We’re supporters of buying local when you can. When there are parts of your diet that you can’t buy locally, then try to buy it directly from the farmer. Ninety-nine percent of walnuts are grown in California, so you might as well know who you’re buying them from,” Kaben says.

The Kramers showing packaged sprouted walnuts in a specialty flavors. Photo by Kayla Anderson
The Kramers showing packaged sprouted walnuts in a specialty flavors. Photo by Kayla Anderson

Buying directly from the farmer also ensures they receive more of the profits to help them stay in business. “This is keeping our family afloat and the farm in the family,” Jenn says. “From a human health and environmental standpoint, walnuts beat out oats, grain, wheat, rice, and corn as far as nutritional value. Sprouted walnuts outperform cereals on the health and environmental scale because our trees are sequestering carbon every day of the week,” Kaben says.

“When looking at how to sustain human quality over the next 50 years, walnuts should be at the top of the list.”

Kaben Kramer