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Bursts of purple
Mendes farm goes from almonds to artichokes
A bee pollinates a giant artichoke blossom in the artichoke field on South McKinley Avenue just north of the Highway 120 Bypass. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

For several decades until about two years ago, all that Frank Mendes could see around his ranch home in early spring were snow-white almond blossoms.

Those fragrant blossoms are gone. After the trees have reached their productive life span, Mendes decided not to replace them with new ones.

Today, the valley snow in spring in the fields around Mendes’ house has been replaced by an equally colorful and picturesque product - artichokes that burst into a palette of purple colors amid the green foliage.

“These here are the prettiest I’ve seen. They look really nice when they’re blooming,” said the retired farmer who has leased his land to a company named Plant Sciences, an agricultural research company with an international clientele with a branch office in Manteca.

“Drive on the (Highway 120) Bypass and look across those fields. They look like the fields in the Salinas Valley - Nice straight rows of artichokes. They (Plant Sciences) do a really good job. I’m glad that they rented my place,” Mendes said.

Mendes has been enjoying the acres of French painting-like view around his house for about two summers now.

“They don’t harvest any of the fruit; they just harvest the plants when they’re ready. They just take the head. They don’t chop the whole plant down. (The workers) just throw them in a basket or sack that they throw over their shoulder - that’s what Raymond, my son, was telling me,” Mendes said.

Raymond, who is also a farmer, lives in a house that’s right next to the artichoke fields. His father’s house is right next door.

This is the second year that Mendes has been enjoying the artichoke blossoms, which actually look like giant purple thistles.

“They’ll go two or three years, that’s what I understand. They might even go another year,” Mendes said about the artichoke plants’ longevity before they are replaced.

Mendes said he opted not to start a new almond orchard when he removed the trees two years ago.

“Well, they got too old and they weren’t producing. They were 34 years old. Almonds only go about 20 years. I didn’t want to (start anew) at my age. I got the place auctioned off anyway,” said the octogenarian lifelong farmer who has tilled the fields on South McKinley Avenue for decades.

The land where his property is located is part of Lathrop’s proposed South Lathrop Specific Plan area on the southwest corner of McKinley and West Yosemite Avenue.

According to Plant Sciences’ web site, the company started “from humble beginnings in a home office and lab facility in 1985.” Since then, the company has been “committed to research and development in many areas including plant breeding, plant tissue culture, seed production, crop growing techniques, and pest management.”

The company has since “expanded to multiple departments in three main locations: a primary research center in Watsonville, California and nursery plant propagation facilities in Macdoel, California and Manteca, California,” according to the web site.

The same source also states that the company was founded by Richard D. Nelson. Ph.D, who is also the president of Plant Sciences, Inc.