Wednesday, 09 November 2016 11:46

Where Did Dates in the Desert Come From?

Written by Jeff Shotwell
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Date Palm Trees in the Coachella Valley Date Palm Trees in the Coachella Valley www.wikipedia.com

Dates - those wonderful fruits growing so plentifully in California's Coachella Valley - have a long history going back thousands of years. Although dates are a true California crop, they're not native to the United States. In fact, it's believed that dates originated somewhere in the vicinity of Iraq, which is why they've been embedded in Middle Eastern culture and tradition for millennia.

But we're going to talk about the fascinating 125+ year history of dates in the California desert.

Date palm seeds made their way from the Middle East to California through the efforts of "agricultural explorers", who were part of the US Department of Agriculture's efforts to find crops around the world that would grow in America. The USDA found that the Coachella Valley was ideal for growing date palms, and in the early 1890s, date farming in California was born.

The dates' connection to the mysterious Middle East was capitalized upon by farmers and date sellers to draw more attention to the fruit. Stages were built with romanticized Arabian motifs for productions of the same theme, and towns were even named with Middle Eastern terms, including Oasis, Thermal and Mecca.

Their efforts paid off - today, the date industry brings in more than $30 million a year, and 90 percent of those dates - approximately 40 million pounds - are grown in the Coachella Valley. So the next time you fly over or drive past the 6,500-plus acres of date palms that grow to over 70 feet tall, let your mind wander back to those early days, when Medjool, Deglet-Noor, Zahidi and Bahri dates were brand new sweet delicacies of the American palate. Yet one more historical milestone on the long list of proud accomplishments in the Coachella Valley. Daily tours are available at many of the date farms in the Coachella Valley

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