Rio Hahn walks his orchard of avocado trees daily. Located in Bonsall, Calif., in north San Diego County, Hahn's orchard is just 31/2 acres, but that's OK with him. The cozy size allows him and his wife, Teresa Fiske, to cultivate, water and prune every tree by hand. Then from mid-January through September, when orders come in, they step outside, pick the fruit, pack it up and send it off.
This sort of attention to detail is what you'd expect from a man who did post-graduate ecology research in the Negev Desert and found himself smitten by a library of early Soviet soil-science texts. His research led him to help design, build and operate Biosphere II, a 31/2-acre ecological project north of Tucson, Ariz. In 1994, Hahn left the Biosphere II project to look for a "place where I could get into eco-farming." A small avocado orchard in southern California was the perfect fit, a way to blend his studious idealism with American farming. Today, his certified organic orchard is self-sustaining and watered with its own well, and his home and office are solar-powered. Hahn has nurtured his few acres into producing an average of 20,000 pounds a year, sold mostly at local organic markets in southern California, to organic packers and through mail-order via the internet (organicavos.com).
His are Hass avocados, probably the most familiar varietal in our markets, pear-shaped and dark green, almost black when ripe. They are creamy, heavy to the hand and unbelievably fragrant. "Just last week, I picked one that weighed 13 ounces," he says. "We had it for dinner."
Indeed, there are lots of ways to do that. Try avocados sliced on sandwiches or tossed into salads. Instead of adding cream to soups, blend an avocado into chowder for a creamy, rich main course, just waiting for a fresh green salad. "An avocado a day keeps the doctor away," Hahn says. We can't vet his science, but we can celebrate the idealism that led one man to become a new American farmer. Avocados are, indeed, high in fat, but it's the heart healthy monounsaturated kind. Update your guacamole with this variation using blue cheese.
By Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, food writers in Colebrook, Conn.