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Dehydrating Tomatoes Started California Family Business
In 1985, when Karen Cox dried her first batches of tomatoes in a couple of small dehydrators, she had no idea they would start a sideline business for her and her husband, Bill, who raised tomatoes for canneries. Friends loved the rich tomato flavor, and a local buyer purchased them as fast as Karen could dry them.
    Now, 35 years later, the California business, which was named Karen’s Naturals after she died in 2009, continues to sell dried tomatoes as well as dried apples and persimmons along with a variety of freeze-dried items.
    “Everything we dry is all natural. There’s nothing added - no salt, sulfur or preservatives,” says Bill Cox, noting that those additives are typically used in sun drying and dehydrating processes.
    But the process has become more sophisticated and less labor intensive with a 60 by 100-ft. shop set up with a flow-through dehydrator. Washed, sliced tomatoes go in one end on the 4-ft. wide screen/belt and come out dried 40 ft. and 8 hrs. later.
    “We pick 60 buckets (30 lbs. each) of tomatoes a day over 6 weeks,” Cox says. About a dozen seasonal workers take care of production and packaging.
    The tomatoes are just a small part of the current operation. Cox purchases bins of apples and persimmons from other California farmers. They are sliced like French fries and dried in the same way. Because there is great demand for it, he also purchased freeze-dried items such as berries and vegetables like corn and peas and repackages them to sell with his produce.
    “They can all be stored at room temperature as long as they are sealed,” Cox says.
    Most of the items are sold through sales reps throughout the country to medium-to high-end cooperatives and markets and restaurants. Consumers can purchase them through Karen’s Naturals online store.
    Though most of the farm’s tomatoes are sold to a cannery, dehydrating some of them along with other foods is a good addition to the business.
    Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Karen’s Naturals, P.O. Box 807, Westley, Calif. 95387 (ph 800 537-1985; www.shopkarensnaturals.com; info@karensnaturals.net).

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2021 - Volume #45, Issue #1