Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pine Nut Equipment

So, we're almost caught up now, so just a few last photos will get us up to the New Year!  Hurrah for a burst of posts!

Anyway, this week we have an update for you on the state of the pine nut business.  And business is booming.  Or, well, more like humming.  Loudly.  But more on that in a bit.  As you can see above, on Christmas Day we took delivery of the equipment that will process our pine nuts.  I didn't really want to work that day, but it's not celebrated here in North Asia and it just so happened that the guy who was travelling in to setup all of our equipment could only be here on the 25th.  C'est la vie.  

We did our family Christmas on the 26th instead, which in previous years wouldn't have bothered our boys as they wouldn't have known unless we told them.  Unfortunately they've learned to read a calendar this year, which led to much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth at the delay for Christmas!  But I'm getting off track.

Anyway, stage one was to get all the equipment into place.  In the foreground you can see the first separator, it separates our nuts into different sizes.  Behind it, next to the car (which obviously won't be there when production begins!) is the machine that actually shells the nuts.  Then, to the right, the second separator which separates the shells from the nuts, etc.  Behind that there is another machine to peel the shelled kernels, and over to the right there will eventually be a washing station.

The separators required some adjustment after a test run to get them running properly; apparently we'll be doing a lot of this so I had to learn how to do it all.

Below you can see how this actually works, if you can peer through the dark (I apologize for the darkness of the videos, it appears my phone requires a more well-lit area for video than I thought) to see it.  

As you can see, or probably can't, the nuts are shaken over a series of mesh sheets that separate the nuts by size.  This is important because the bigger nuts require the shelling machine to be set differently than the smaller nuts, so you must first separate the sizes before shelling them.

Below you can see the shelling machine itself, it spins the nuts between two drums which crack the outer shell.

I'll try to put up a video of this as well so you can see what happens.  Hopefully you'll be able to tell that what comes out is some shelled nuts, a lot of nuts with cracked shells, and some shells already separated from the kernel.  This mixture then goes into the second separator (being worked on in the picture below the video) to put these into separate containers for further processing.

Finally, you wash the nuts, then dry them, and then they go through a machine that peels the membrane from the kernel itself (sort of like the red membrane on a peanut).  What comes out of that machine looks like this (in box) with the peels at bottom on the green bag.

Interestingly, you can sell these peels, which are light and fluffy and have a wonderful smell of pine, to companies that use them to make pillows!

Even better, of course, are the wonderful nuts (seen above in the box) that you can then sell for a lot more than you paid for them.  Best of all, perhaps, is the option of eating them, but at the prices they sell for we can't afford to do much of that!

And that, dear folks, is how pine nuts are processed.  If we get more lights installed in the facility I'll take better videos and pictures one day, promise.  For now, we only ran a couple of bags through the machines to test them; everything is still packed up until construction of the building is complete.  Getting close on that, though, most of the walls are in now, just a few more to finish, a good cleaning and a bit of plumbing and we'll be done!  Well, and a ventilation system and a fire safety system to meet code.  And then we'll be done, and ready to start doing this a lot more!

Thanks for stopping by; see us again in a week or so when ... well, I'll think of something to post.  Hopefully.

Friday, January 3, 2014

See? Told You I'd Post Again Soon!

See?  And you thought I'd never actually do it!

And yet, here we are.  With a post that stretches all the way back to Thanksgiving (pictured above).  Normally, we have a massive Thanksgiving feast with all our T friends who have never experienced one, but since we're running out of friends who haven't ever had a Thanksgiving dinner in their lives, plus we were just kinda tired, instead we invited over an American single guy who's teaching English in town that Bobbie met at some sort of English expo a month or so earlier.  Being a Southern woman, she felt the need to take him in and feed him as his mother is 1000's of miles away, plus his roommate is a Chinese guy who hadn't ever had Thanksgiving, so it all dovetailed in perfectly.

No turkey this year, as we could only find a ham, but it was delicious and of course when you have stuffing that's the only thing that really matters (well, and deviled eggs) at a Thanksgiving meal anyway.

One of the other interesting things I did in December was take part in the local government's "One Village, One Product" program.  This is a rather ingenious idea to try to boost the economy by stressing that each village should, at a bare minimum, try to come up with one business that produces something, thus providing employment for at least a couple of people.  One of the big challenges T-land faces is that there are no jobs in many of the smaller villages, meaning that people, younger people especially, are naturally drawn to the capital to find work.  This leads to villages that once supported 1000 or more people in the Soviet times now consisting of a hundred retirees and maybe some of their grandkids, while all of the working-age people live in the city.

The government has tried to stem this tide by offering grants/loans to small business owners, and they held a big expo in December so every region could show off the businesses they were running.  Some of them were ideas with little upside for future sales growth (the production of T coats, for example) but others were interesting and showed promise.  Above you can see some of the ones that were displayed outside the expo center, with businesses that produce ready-made yurts or a hay-growing collective.  Below were some of the fur-trapping businesses that I found interesting, offering mink/wolf pelts for sale (presumably to garment manufacturers?).

Our region managed to scare up a passel of very cute T kids in traditional garb in an attempt to win the judges' favor:

Me with one of the other small business owners from our area.  He takes raw cast iron sheets and shapes them into interesting stoves that can run on used motor oil or kerosene.  They can be used for heating a home or cooking. 

Interesting, but perhaps without the same potential for future sales growth, was this business that offered stuffed sheep stomachs and milk vodka:

I doubt you can see it, but among the judges was the vice president of the republic (the equivalent of a lieutenant governor in the US).  I got to chat with him a bit about our pine nut business; it was a privilege to get to share what it is we're doing and our vision for the future of the business.

Now, for the business itself, I'm going to save the latest news for the next post in a week or so, but when I last showed you photos we had basically an empty frame set up.  Well, since then we've been hard at work progressing to actual interior walls!

Above: the enclosure around the generator
Below: the staircase to the second floor going in

And this is how it looks now, with actual walls going in.  Actually, it's a bit beyond even this now, so I need to go out and take some more pictures, but that will have to wait for our next update.

Thanks for stopping in, and we hope you'll have a very happy New Year!