COACHELLA, Calif. - During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims like Ali Almasfor of Coachella fast beginning at sunrise as a sign of sacrifice to God.
When Ramadan falls in the summer, the long days mean up to 16 hours of hunger, all in the name of devotion.
And when the sun finally sets, they break the fast with one of the valley's signature crops.
"Our prophet, he told us to break the fast with the date and water," Almasfor said.
Many Muslims around the world break their fasts with dates from right here in the eastern Coachella Valley. Each year it means a spike in business for local growers.
"A large percent of our sales, this year it will be around 40 % of our sales, happen during the holy month of Ramadan or leading up to that," said D.J. Ryan, sales manager at SunDate in Coachella.
Dates are an ideal way to break a fast because they're packed with natural sugar that's quickly converted into energy. They're also rich in fiber, which helps prevent hungry fasters from eating too much in one sitting.
The dates you see being grown now won't be harvested until September or October, meaning they'll supply next year's Ramadan.
"The fruit that's harvested is either shipped right away or it's put in a freezer and it's held at 10 degrees below Fahrenheit," Ryan said.
That temperature prevents the fruit from decay so they can ship fresh year round.
But SunDate says it's a challenge for local date gardens to keep up with the demand. Foreign shipments ramp up weeks before Ramadan, as the fruit is shipped all over the world, including the Middle East.
"We will fly medjool dates to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates because they're such high quality and they're willing to pay a high price for them," Ryan said.
Almasfor is originally from Yemen and says the medjool dates from here in the valley are unlike any he's had at home.
"I've never see it in my country. We have different kinds of dates. Here it's big, and very good," he said.
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