Capital Press | Orchards, Nuts and Vines Capital Press Tue, 14 Apr 2015 05:02:40 -0400 en Capital Press | Orchards, Nuts and Vines Couple grows chestnut orchard in retirement years Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:39:52 -0400 Patty Mamula In 1988 as Ben Bole was getting ready to retire from large equipment sales, he and his wife Sandy decided to buy 60 acres in Sherwood and start a farm, drawing on their early experience with a hobby farm in Ohio.

“We looked at potential crops for this site,” Ben said. The hazelnut blight was running rampant here and an OSU extension agent encouraged them to try chestnuts. “He felt this climate was ideal for them.”

They planted 15 acres to chestnut trees in 1992. The niche crop has done well on their sunny site with its Willa Kenzie soil. Unlike hazelnuts, chestnuts on the West Coast have been safe from blight and other pests.

The Boles harvested a few chestnuts the third year, but the fourth was when they had a large enough crop to sell. Since then, the crop has increased steadily. The 2013 harvest yielded 18,000 pounds of chestnuts.

Ladd Hill Orchards is, as far as they know, one of three certified organic chestnut orchards in the country.

“For us it’s worth the time and money it takes to get certified,” said Sandy. “We attract many customers because we’re organic.”

“I didn’t know how to sell that first harvest,” said Ben. “I just started contacting local grocery stores.”

Retailers, he said, had two common responses — “What are these, or we usually buy ours from Italy.”

“Still we sold most of them, he said. “The big ones are easy to sell fresh.”

The chestnuts are first brought into their packing barn and sorted into four sizes — jumbo, large, medium and small. The medium and smalls are shelled with a machine Ben designed and built, then they are moved on a conveyor into their state inspected and certified kitchen, where they are dried and packaged.

Sandy discovered dried chestnuts on a trip to Italy. Cooks reconstitute them like dried beans and often use them in soups, stews and sautés.

They added a couple other packaged products, including chestnut flour, a scone mix and a mix of wild rice and dried chestnuts.

The initial experiment with making flour ruined a food processor. Now they use a hammermill grinder and the chestnuts are ground twice, once to break them into pieces and the second time to reduce them to flour.

They sell the chestnuts online and at area grocery stores like New Seasons, Thriftway and Food Front.

“We sell the fresh ones for $6 to $7 a pound plus shipping, and we send to 30 states and Canada by the U.S. Postal Service,” Ben said.

Some of their most loyal customers are retailers from New England who place large orders every year.

“They sell them like crazy during the holidays,” Ben said.

The chestnut harvest begins around the first of October and continues for about six weeks or so, coinciding with the holidays when they are traditionally eaten.

Chestnuts have a water content of about 49 percent and a leathery, shiny brown hull. When they drop off the tree, they need to be harvested within a few days to avoid spoilage.

“When our chestnuts start to drop,” Ben said, “harvest is very concentrated until the rains start.”

By contrast, hazelnuts are usually harvested all at once because they have a hard shell and a low water content.

After harvest, the chestnuts are stored in a cooler at 28 degrees. Because of their sugar content, they don’t freeze. “We can keep them longer in a cooler than people can in their refrigerators,” said Ben.

But every year, they sell out of the fresh chestnuts around Christmas time. This year they lasted until the first of January.

Ladd Hill Orchards

Owners: Ben and Sandy Bole

Products: Fresh and dried organic chestnuts, chestnut flour and scone mix

Orchard: 15 acres of chestnut trees, planted in 1992, on a 60-acre plot in Sherwood, Ore.

Contact Information:

Apple chips add to orchard’s offerings Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:39:34 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas Ron Kelley’s father and grandfather were citrus growers in Southern California, growing oranges and grapefruit since the 1930s.

“I moved to Idaho in 1986,” Kelley says. “My sister Kathy decided to join me temporarily. Now, 27 years later, she and her family are fruit-growers next door.”

“This orchard was mostly apples, some plums and a few cherries when we came,” Kelley says.

“We have fewer acres planted now, but more varieties of fruit,” he says. When they started, most of their fruit was marketed through a packing house. Now they sell the fruit themselves through a farmers’ market in Boise, U-pick and sales at the farm.

“We’ve done U-pick for eight years,” he says. “It started small, but now there’s quite a crowd here in August and September for peaches, and for apples in October. We are 60 miles north of Boise, but most of our clientele live closer, in Payette and Weiser.”

Many customers enjoy a drive in the country to pick fruit, but others like the to buy closer to home.

“We are part of a farmers’ market in Boise since 2002, and people are familiar with our produce. Now some like to bring their families out to the orchard and pick their own,” he says.

In 1993 his sister Kathy began experimenting with drying apples. By 1995 they launched a dried apple product called “AppleCrisp” in grocery stores in Eugene, Ore., and Sun Valley, Idaho, with the Kelley Orchards label.

“We discontinued that last year and focus on marketing through our own store or the farmers’ market,” he says.

Ron and his wife, Kimi, have developed flavored apple chips and other dried fruits and fruit mixes in response to customer requests.

“A lot of it goes through the farmers’ market in spring when there’s no fresh fruit available yet,” he says. Fruit they dry in the fall is sold throughout the year.

“I have one full-time person in the field working with me, and several seasonal workers. Three people help with drying operation through fall and winter, and some work in the store at the orchard most of the year,” he says.

“Kimi works with me in the farmers’ market but is busy raising our kids right now —Aaron 3, Joshua 6 and Shayla 8. I give her credit for moving us into the U-pick business,” he says. “I didn’t think it would work for us because we’re not close to large population centers. But if people want something, they will drive out to get it.”

They grow peach trees in a V or Y shape, pruned to just two limbs, with one pointed east and one west, to gather the most sunshine. This gives optimum growing and ripening conditions, and makes them easy to prune and pick.

“Most orchards also prefer dwarf apple trees. The smaller trees can be planted closer together and you get your first harvest quicker. Labor is less for pruning, thinning, picking and other hand operations,” he explains.

Young trees must be protected from deer. All new plantings are encircled with electric fence until the trees get big enough so deer don’t bother them as much.

“I have one apple tree that was planted in 1946. The rest have all been replaced. We had a lot of red delicious here, but people discovered there are better-tasting apples. Fujis are our most popular U-pick apples. We grafted most of our red delicious over to Fuji, Granny Smith, Gala and other kinds. Fujis hold up well without getting mushy or mealy,” he says.

“At the farmers’ market people are always looking for new things. Some are interested in antique-type apples like Winesap and Arkansas Black. We sell some of these older types because people want to try something they’ve never tried before,” Kelly explains.

Kelley Orchards

Location: Weiser, Idaho

Owners: Ron and Kimi Kelley

In business: Since 1986

Acreage: 35 acres

Crops: Apples, peaches, plums, nectarines and cherries

Orchard diversifies into a winery Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:39:16 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas The Williamson family has been farming for 105 years — since the original 80-acre parcel was homesteaded in 1909.

The orchard was planted in the 1930s. Mike Williamson, along with two other fourth-generation family members — his sister Beverly and cousin Patrick — operate the farm and orchard.

“We’ve taken over from my father Roger Williamson and Patrick’s father, John. They were farming here since they were kids. Before them it was my grandfather John, and he took over from his uncle Henry. Most of our farm is now orchard but we lease out some land to row crop farmers,” Mike Williamson says.

The fresh fruit is sold through their farm store.

“We also sell some through farmers’ markets that supplement their local produce with fruit. We grow and sell about 40 different varieties. Depending on the year, we may have peaches in early July, and some varieties we sell until Halloween,” he says.

Their store offers fresh fruit nearly year-round, thanks to their cold storage facility — a big insulated room with a refrigeration unit that maintains the temperature at 33 to 34 degrees.

“It has concrete floors so we can wash it out, and use a forklift to bring pallets or bins to our fruit stand. We pack fruit in boxes for sale, as needed,” Mike Williamson says. “If they are stored in the packed box for a long time they go bad; they keep longer in the bins.”

Most years, Williamsons also make fresh apple juice. It’s been popular, and a great way to utilize any apples that aren’t top quality as fresh fruit. Nothing goes to waste.

Their cherries are all sweet cherries — which can be used for pies as well as eating.

“I tell people this is simply a pie cherry that doesn’t need sugar,” he says. “They are larger and nicer, and you don’t have to add sugar because these are already sweet.”

They grow several varieties of sweet cherries including Kiona and Benton.

“We also sell Bing, the kind everyone knows, and a late-season cherry called a Skeena,” Mike Williamson says. “These different varieties extend our season. Some ripen earlier than the Bing and some later. These are relatively new varieties from research stations in Washington state, bred for taste and size. A lot of them outperform Bing cherries in flavor.”

At this point their fruit is sold at the farm store, but the family is considering U-pick this year on a newer planting of cherries, the Kionas and Bentons. “They’re on a lower-growing rootstock so the trees won’t be as tall, making it easier for people to reach and pick from the ground,” Mike explains.

During fall harvest, up to 50 workers are hired for picking. Other seasons are also busy — pruning and taking care of the orchard.

“We keep 10 to 15 people working in the orchard, driving tractor, pruning, dormant spraying, controlling weeds or thinning peaches, plums, apricots and apples in the spring. The thinning crew makes sure we get a good crop of the right size fruit. It gets better size and flavor when thinned,” he says.

The family has also diversified into wine grapes.

“In 1998 we planted our first vineyards. We contracted with a local winemaker and also made some wine for ourselves, in 2001. Idaho’s wine industry was experiencing a rapid growth phase and reinstated the Idaho wine festival. We got the gold medal Best of Show in the first competition,” he says. “Now we’ve increased our grapes to about 45 acres, and have a tasting room here on the farm.”

This created another year-round product for their farm store.

“We really like the wine as a product; it keeps and just gets better with age. It doesn’t go bad, like a peach or cherry,” he says.

The Williamson farm has another generation coming on. Mike and his wife Monica have four children, and his sister Beverly and her husband have two children.

“My seven-year-old son wants to grow up to be an orchard worker like me,” Mike Williamson says.

Williamson Orchards and Vineyards

Location: Near Marsing, Idaho

Owners: Williamson family

Orchard: Since mid-1930s

Acreage: 400 acres

Crops: Cherries, apricots, apples, peaches, plums


Orchard thrives for 132 years Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:38:56 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas The Williams family has been in the orchard business for 132 years — and counting.

“I was raised on this ranch. Part of it was my grandfather’s homestead; he came here in 1882 and filed on the place in 1890 when Idaho started issuing deeds,” Harold Williams says.

“The orchard has been here since my grandfather first planted it. I put some of the ranch into alfalfa, but the original place always had an orchard,” he says.

“According to an article my wife Jackie found, this was the first commercial orchard in Emmett. My grandfather bought all his trees from Stark Brothers in Missouri. We found one old order for 4,000 trees,” Williams says.

His grandfather had pears, apples and cherries. “We celebrated our centennial in 1990 and received a certificate stating that the ranch had the same owners for 100 years.”

“We deliver fruit to stores and also run U-pick on peaches and cherries. We get a lot of customers when the peaches are in season; people like the tree-ripened peaches. Some people have been coming here for peaches for 30 years and few have been customers for nearly 60 years! One customer has come all the way from Livingston, Montana, for more than 30 years,” Williams says.

The ranch has three full-time employees and hires extra help during harvest. There are other tasks during the rest of the year.

“For instance we might have six people working during part of the winter, pruning trees. Apples and peaches have to be pruned every year when they are dormant. It’s often done during late December or early January, and we try to be done by the first of March.

“My wife and I run the business; our family is all grown up and gone,” Williams says.

The trees are watered by sprinkler irrigation, part of it with buried lines, and part of with hand lines,” he explains.

Trees are replaced when they get old.

“Cherries and apples last the longest; they are good for at least 50 years. Peach trees only last 12 to 15 years. We replant some trees almost every year, to keep new ones coming on,” Williams says. “We get most of our trees from a nursery in Washington state.”

There is only a short window of time when fruit is optimally ripe for picking.

“With cherries it’s about a two-week window, and peaches about the same. You want them ripe before you start harvesting or U-pick, and then they need to be picked quickly,” Williams says. “We generally have more cherries than we have customers for, so we sell boxes of cherries to some of the stores. The peaches are easier to market through U-pick.”

The orchard has several varieties of apples.

“The earliest ripening are Gala, then come the Red Delicious and Golden Delicious, Rome and Fuji. Galas are ready to pick by late August and Romes come on the first of October. We try to get done with apple harvest by the first of November,” Williams says. “We only have one block of apples that we sell by U-pick, and the rest are marketed commercially.”

These are sold through stores. Lower quality processing apples are sent to Tree Top in Yakima to be made into apple juice and applesauce.

“Most apple growers in Idaho and Washington belong to Tree Top,” he says.

Williams Fruit Ranch

Location: Emmett, Idaho

Owners: Harold and Jackie Williams

Orchard since: 1882

Acreage: 100 acres (70 acres in orchard)

Crops: Cherries, peaches, prunes, plums and apples

Orchard keeps family busy Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:38:25 -0400 Hear SMITH Thomas The Isom family started its orchard 20 years ago.

“It all began when my wife Jeanne went to a meeting about fruit trees, hosted by our county agent at that time. We bought 200 apple trees,” says Marc Isom.

He grew up farming near Idaho Falls, Idaho. He and Jeanne farmed there after they were married, then moved to their present farm near Blackfoot in 1990. The orchard is on 5 acres near their house.

“We started with four types of apples — Honeycrisp, Macintosh, Red Haralson and Sweet Sixteen — that the county agent suggested,” Marc recalls.

“Our orchard has changed; almost all the apples now are Honeycrisp because that’s what people want,” he explains.

Half of their apples are sold through farmers’ markets in Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Rexburg and Jackson.

“The other half are sold at the farm; a lot of people come here to buy apples or do U-pick. We usually have quite a few people here and it’s fun,” he says. Depending on the year, apples can be ripe by early September through the end of October.

The trees are watered with sprinklers.

“For the first trees we planted, we put in a drip system. When we expanded we put in overhead sprinkler systems for the additional trees,” he explains.

The first trees were semi-dwarf, but fairly tall.

“Then we went to dwarf trees because they are so much easier to take care of — and easier for people to pick,” he says. The small trees mature faster, and start producing fruit within four to five years.

“When planting the trees, they are basically just small sticks, put into the ground — about a half an inch in diameter — and they just grow from that,” he says. When trees are young, they are vulnerable to damage by deer and rodents.

“Mice and voles eat the bark off the young trees. You can protect the little trees with wire mesh but we also put out bait for the rodents. Then they’ll eat the bait and leave the trees alone. We have a lot of cats, and they help keep the mice down,” he says.

He and Jeanne have three grown children and three still at home. Kaydee is 18 and will graduate this spring from high school. Julie is 16 and Benson is 12.

“They enjoy helping with the orchard, and the older ones come home in the fall; they take a vacation and help with the harvest,” Isom says. Additional high school kids are hired to help pick.

The whole family helps tend the trees — pruning in spring and thinning apples in summer.

“If the tree has too much fruit on its branches we pick some, leaving one every 6 inches,” he says. This space enables them to grow larger, and not crowded,” he says.

“You can take up to 70 percent of the small apples off, depending on how much frost there was in the spring. We usually thin the extra ones in June, when they’re the size of a marble,” he explains.

“We always have some frost damage, but how much depends on the year. When we just had a few trees we burned fires in the orchard to prevent frost damage on a cold night, but now we just turn on the sprinklers. This helps raise the temperature a degree or two, to protect the blossoms and keep them from freezing,” Isom says.

“This year marks the 20th anniversary of our orchard. We might do something special and invite people to come help us celebrate,” he says.

Isom’s Fruit Farm

Location: Blackfoot, Idaho

Owners: Marc and Jeanne Isom

In business since: 1990

Acreage: 5 acres of orchard

Fruit grown: apples

Farmers help bring blueberries to dry region Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:37:09 -0400 Erick Peterson WAPATO, Wash. — Jeff and Terri Weijohn had a lot of doubts when they first planted blueberries. Now, more than a decade later, they are glad they gave it a try.

The Weijohns’ farm has a storied past.

Jeff’s grandfather, Ervin H. Weijohn, left Canada and came to the Yakima Valley to pick fruit during the day and haul fruit at night. While working around the clock, he saved money and dreamed of buying his own farm, a dream that he realized in 1948.

He purchased land that was already producing cherries and apples and started growing alfalfa, which he sold for hay and seed.

Jeff’s father, Bud Weijohn, started farming in 1956 and grew alfalfa, sugar beets and mint.

Jeff, a member of the third generation, wanted to follow in his predecessors’ footsteps while paving his own course. His wife, Terri, also wanted to try something new. As a student of nutrition, she has long wanted to develop products that would be more healthful.

And they both wanted to find a project that they could do with their three sons, Brady, Zachery and Spencer.

“I was working so many hours that I wasn’t spending any time with my kids,” Jeff said.

He and Terri thought that they could start a crop that would develop as their sons also matured.

They would work out the problems of the crop as a family, giving the young boys a chance to work with agriculture and finance.

To give themselves a challenge, they chose blueberries. As far as they knew, no one else had tried to grow them locally. They had long seen success in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and other locations with wetter climates, but people always told them they could not be grown in the drier, less acidic environment of Central Washington.

They started with four acres, and soon found success. They learned that when they regulated the acidity of the soil, they had a few advantages over berry operations in wetter climate.

For instance, they did not struggle with mold as do farms farther west. Also, they do not need the pesticides necessary in other locations.

The Weijohns said that they have never used pesticides on their blueberries, and this is an important point for them. First, their customers enjoy knowing that their berries are free of pesticides. Second, Jeff and Terri save money by not needing to buy pesticides.

Finding success, they wanted to share the news with their neighbors. In so doing, they found that several nearby farms were also experimenting with blueberries.

It was an idea whose time had come, they said. Now, it is an increasingly common crop in the Yakima Valley.

Also, it has become a growing part of the Weijohns’ business, as they have devoted more and more acres to blueberries.

More important, they said, it has done what they intended. Their boys grew up raising blueberries.

Blueberry Hill Berries

Owners: Jeff and Terri Weijohn

Location: Wapato, Wash.

Acres: 140

Crops: Blueberries, apples, grapes and mint

Year started: 1948

Gilbert Orchards gives back to community Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:36:58 -0400 Erick Peterson YAKIMA, Wash. — With a history that goes back in the Yakima Valley more than a century, Gilbert Orchards has developed strong ties to its community. Sean Gilbert, a member of this fruit-growing clan, said that his family farm places great importance on contributing to several causes.

“Personally, I think that the most important one is the Washington Apple Education Foundation,” Gilbert said.

He said that this charity is particularly important, as it grants scholarships to students in his community to further their education. He serves on this scholarship board, which gave a scholarship to a child of one of Gilbert Orchards’ growers last year.

The student, Heidi Empey, who intends to study at Brigham Young University next year, was given $1,500 for her education.

“It’s fundamental to who we are and what we do,” Gilbert said about such efforts to promote the future of the agricultural industry in the Yakima area. “We’ve been in the valley for a long time, and we have benefited greatly from its resources and its people. It’s our responsibility to give back and hopefully make this a better valley for generations to come.”

Though significant, academic scholarships are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Gilbert Orchard’s charity. Gilbert lists several more.

For instance, his company helps support La Casa Hogar, an organization that provides skills training and other resources for immigrant women. Gilbert Orchards is a donor to this organization, and it helps with fundraising activities.

Gilbert said that the company frequently takes an active role in charity work, not only giving money but participating in or organizing events.

Sometimes, charity hurts, as when he and other company employees took part in a “polar plunge.”

To benefit the Special Olympics, Gilbert Orchards employees jumped into an icy pond, thereby encouraging their backers to donate cash. The company, which is regularly one of the top donation-getters at the event, collected $3,840 this past winter. Seven office workers braved 32-degree weather to make last season’s plunge.

Most events are a little more pleasant, Gilbert said. At least a few of the company’s charities relate to the family’s interests in the arts and culture.

Barbara Smith Gilbert and Cragg Gilbert, his mother and father, support the Yakima Symphony Orchestra and Allied Arts of the Yakima Valley, as both organizations encourage young people in the arts and promote local artists.

And the list goes on to include Heritage University, the Pegasus Project, the Yakima Valley Museum, the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy, the United Way and others.

Gilbert said he is proud to be part of a family, and company, tradition that values this work.

“It’s been an important part of our company as long as I’ve been around,” he said.

He said that his grandparents showed great generosity and were active in the community. As the fifth generation of Gilberts in Yakima, and as the father of an up-and-coming sixth generation, he intends to continue making charity a key part of the company.

“In the future, we want to continue these charities as their foundation, but also look for other causes that make a difference in the Valley,” he said.

“Our Valley has tremendous resources and people who are committed to making it a better place,” he said. “There’s potential there, and I hope that we can all direct our resources to realize that potential.”

Gilbert Orchards

Farmer: Cragg Gilbert and family

Location: Yakima, Wash.

Year started: 1897

Crops: Apples, peaches, pears, nectarines, apricots, cherries

Seven generations of Denfelds have farmed Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:36:39 -0400 MITCH LIES HILLSBORO, Ore. — The crop mix has changed, and they’ve added to their packing facility, but one thing has remained constant with the Denfeld family of Hillsboro, Ore. For seven generations, dating back to 1872, the Denfeld family has been farming in the north Willamette Valley.

With three young children already in the mix and possibly more on the way, odds are this farm family will just keep going.

The Denfelds have farmed many crops in their history, but for most of the past 80 years they’ve concentrated on orchard crops. The farm grew plums from the 1940s until earlier this century, when Paul Denfeld, who now runs the farm with his son, Sean Denfeld, decided to pull out the last of the plum trees.

“I got tired of fighting the weather … and hauling the crop to Vancouver,” Paul said. “We had older orchards, older trees. We just decided not to replace them.”

The farm has grown walnuts since John Mulloy, Paul’s grandfather, started producing them on the Hillsboro-area farm in the late 1920s, and it continues to do so today.

Hazelnuts, now the farm’s mainstay, entered the mix in the 1960s when Paul’s father, Melvin Denfeld, started planting the nuts.

Today the farm produces 350 acres of hazelnuts, along with 225 acres of walnuts. It also processes and packages hazelnuts for other growers, some from as far away as Eugene.

The farm decided to expand its packing operation in the mid-1980s to gain better control over their product. The farm expanded their processing operation again in 2005 when the Denfelds built an additional processing building.

Adding processing capacity guarantees you a job, Paul said, and usually means you’ll at least make some money, even when markets are bad.

“You’re still making money, whether you’re putting a low-value crop or a high-value crop into the plant,” Paul said.

“Some years your margins might be razor thin,” said Sean, whose main responsibility is operating the plant. “It depends on the market on the finished end and the market of procuring the product from the growers.

“Also, there is some risk,” Sean said. “You can purchase the product at one price and then the market declines while we’re holding the product.”

The last eight or so years, however, risk has been minimal in the ever-expanding hazelnut market, Paul and Sean said.

“The world-wide demand for nuts in general has continued to increase,” Sean said. “That is the main thing driving these good prices.”

The farm sells the bulk of its nuts in-shell to China. “There is such a demand for it, they are using all we can ship to them,” Paul said.

The Denfelds have no fear of the crop being overproduced in the near future, even with some projecting a 50 percent increase in hazelnut acres in Oregon in coming years.

“The whole world is consuming more nuts in general,” Sean said, “and we produce only 3 or 4 percent of the world supply, and our hazelnuts are premium to any other in the world. As long as we continue to brand them as such, we will be fine.”

Denfeld Orchards

Location: Hillsboro, Ore.

Name of farmer and family: Paul Denfeld and Sean Denfeld

How long in business: Since 1872

Acreage: 575

Crops: Hazelnuts and walnuts

Family grows hazelnut farm, business Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:34:40 -0400 Geoff Parks Barb Foulke and her husband, Fritz, plan in the next four years to have hazelnut trees planted on 250 acres.

Currently, they have hazelnut trees on about 210 acres.

“We have 175 trees at full maturity,” Foulke said, “and the rest of these are babies coming along.”

The rest of the land — in two tracts north and east of Albany — is leased and currently is used to grow grass seed.

“But as I march forward, it will turn into hazelnuts,” she said. “We’re short 40 acres of plantings and we’re doing 10 a year, so it will take me the four more years to do the planting of the full 250 acres of hazelnuts.”

The couple purchased a 60-acre orchard near Monmouth in 1998. At that time, it had over 6,000 mature trees that were poorly maintained, so the first order of business for the Foulkes was to stabilize the operation.

Selling directly to the consumer ended up to be the method that seemed the most practical to the other side of their lifestyle — he is a family practice physician four days a week and she works as a nurse practitioner two days a week, both at a clinic in Keizer.

Freddy Guys (Fritz’s childhood nickname) Hazelnuts had an intense beginning, Foulke said.

“I started with a scoop and a little plastic bag,” Foulke said, but eventually the couple put in a drying and sorting facility in a former horse barn on the property and began processing their own nuts.

Selling to the commodity markets proved to be harder than they anticipated, Foulke said, and hazelnut prices bottomed out in 2001, prompting her to begin selling nuts directly to consumers.

Freddy Guys Hazelnuts are sold in bulk all over the nation and to other parts of the world, including China and Vietnam. A large portion of sales, however, are direct orders from repeat customers, restaurants, delis, small distributors and at farmers’ markets around the state.

“Our online sales are ridiculous,” she says proudly.

The Foulkes’ three children are in and out of the Monmouth homestead at various times of the year, helping out with farm chores such as pruning and spraying, orchard cleanup and other late winter-early spring work and late summer in addition to fall harvest-time duties such as sweeping up nuts.

Local teenagers are enlisted to help with nut cracking, bagging and packaging, she said.

Most of the profits over the first several years in business were plowed into developing new products and purchasing equipment to help get those products to market. Ideas like granola, pancake mix, diced hazelnuts, pizza balls, hazelnut butter, “defatted hazelnuts” (flour), meal and other items are created and sold.

Five years ago, Foulke purchased an imported hazelnut roaster and a custom oil press that were installed on the property.

Now, hazelnut oil is also sold under the Freddy Guys name.

Freddy Guys Hazelnuts

Location: Monmouth, Ore.

Owners: Fritz and Barb Foulke, children Toby, Jocie and Evan

Farming since: 1998

Total acreage: 250, with 210 in hazelnuts

Table grapes grower post record year Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:32:37 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER California table grapes come in red, green and black and come in shapes ranging from big and round to elongated and skinny.

“Over 100,000 acres in California are planted to 80 varieties of table grapes,” said Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission. “The bulk of the volume comes from the Coachella Valley and the rest from San Joaquin Valley, Tehachapi area, Kern and Madera counties — right up the heart of the state.”

The number of acres has increased considerably in the past five years, and, most importantly, the volume per acre has gone up. This is due to new growing practices and varieties. A couple of varieties are skinny and elongated, but as a rule, Nave said grapes still look like grapes.

“The industry had the largest crop in history last year — 117 million 22-pound boxes — that eclipsed the 2012 crop of 101 million boxes.” she said. “The highest volume of table grapes grown is the Crimson Seedless, followed by Scarlet Royal, Red Globe seedless, a big Autumn King seedless and Thompson seedless.”

The demographic make-up of California table grape growers has remained unchanged throughout the years: They are owned and operated by multi-generation families who have always been in the business. There are about 500 table grape farming operations in the state.

“Table grapes are hard to grow,” Nave said. “It is a delicate fruit and growing it involves intense hand labor, battling pests in the vineyards, trimming the vines and a lot of art. It’s a high investment commodity that takes three to four years for full production.”

The bulk of California table grapes is sold in retail and big box stores. Canada is the largest export market followed by China and Mexico. California exported 42 percent of its table grape volume in 2012. The table grape industry recorded record high box price of $17 last year.

“Grapes are good for you,” she said. “They contain vitamins, minerals, polyphenols and nutrients. Grape consumption has shown promise in preventing diseases, lowering blood pressure and inflammation, promoting eye heath, cognition and other diseases associated with aging. I tell everyone to eat two servings of table grapes daily.”

The biggest challenge facing growers continues to be the availability and the cost of water and labor and handling federal and state regulations.

“I think the biggest misconception among consumers is that table grapes are a summer fruit,” she said. “But, it is actually a summer, fall and winter fruit. Growers begin picking in May, into June, through harvest in December to shipping in February. We wage small wars with Mexican imports in May and June and with Chile in December. But studies have shown most consumers prefer table grapes from California.

“California table grape growers are funding a big marketing program to American consumers and countries around the world. It’s pretty clear their undertaking is economically viable.”

Central Valley grower offers advice ‘in a nutshell’ Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:32:25 -0400 Julia Hollister MODESTO, Calif. — Walnut grower Jake Wenger has a word of advice for anyone thinking of raising the prized nut: patience.

“If you already own the land, by the time you plant and fertilize the trees, install the irrigation and keep the weeds down, it will be four years before there are almonds,” he said. “Farming is a long-term investment, often over a 30-year-life span.”

He also had some financial advice for those thinking about going into walnuts: Be prepared.

If a potential grower does not already have land, Wenger said prices in the Central Valley can approach $25,000 to $30,000 an acre. The initial amount of land needed for an orchard is 50-100 acres.

There is another avenue for those wanting to farm but lack the cash investment for ownership. Many investment groups pool their money and buy thousands of acres in this fertile area of the state. These groups hire farm managers to oversee operations. They make a good living and are out in the fields everyday. Sometimes managers also receive the opportunity to take over ownership of the farm.

Farmers also need to be prepared to deal with pests, he said.

Pests are a problem. Walnuts can be temperamental when pests are present. One of the most prevalent is the nematode, a tiny worm that wears away little roots. Wenger uses fumigants as a proactive measure when he first plants young trees.

“Blight, which is carried on pollen, can attack walnuts during spring to take hold and have a big effect in June, causing the infected nuts to fall off the trees.”

The biggest summer pest is the coddling moth, he said, adding that any of the pests can be catastrophic to the walnuts without proper management.

“Conversely,” he said, “there is nothing to do about regulations but obey them.”

Wenger is a fourth-generation farmer.

“My family has been farming in the same western Modesto location since 1910,” he said. “My great-grandfather started the legacy when the land was just a dairy.”

The good news is that walnut prices are as high as they have ever been, bringing $1.50 a pound for the marquee Chandler variety.

However, Wenger said most farmers would like to have a consistent price rather than traditional “peaks and valleys” in the fluctuating price market. He predicts much lower prices in the next few years.

California has no worries about walnut imports. The Golden State grows 80 percent of the world’s walnuts and almonds supplies 99 percent of the nation’s walnuts and almonds. The demand for California products is high.

Wenger and his family are in it for the long haul, he said.

“I guess I never wanted to do anything else but farming,” Wenger said. “I love working outside with my family and being a part of something. My dad always told me ‘We are farmers. If the market for walnuts dries up and drops off the face of the earth, we will grow something else. If we are ever forced off our land, we will go somewhere else and start again. It’s in our blood.’”

Jake Wenger

Location: Modesto, Calif.

Family involved in farming: Father, Paul, who is president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, and younger brother, Luke.

Acreage: 400

Crops: Walnuts and almonds

Central Valley olive grower battles imports Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:30:54 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER SAN MARTIN, Calif. — Jeff Martin has some choice words for cheap olive oil imports and the language omitted from the new farm bill.

“Aside from the fruit fly, the threat of imports is the second biggest pest,” he said. “In Europe, all olive oil is subsidized by the government. Frankly, I hoped the farm bill had the language that the American olive oil producers wanted to see, forbidding the importation of adulterated oil” that is sold as higher grade oil.

He said New York interests killed the legislation.

“Money in New York is bigger than the California olive oil lobby,” he said.

The United States is the third largest olive oil consumer, after Italy and Spain.

Martin didn’t plan on being an olive grower; he was a landscaper. Twelve years ago his property was zoned open space. Agriculture is an accepted use for open space in the county and he wanted a permanent crop. Then, he said, he realized there was no crop more permanent than olive trees. There are 400-year-old olive trees in Italy and Spain that are still producing.

Martin also had to find out which variety would be productive and profitable, the only way to compete with the cheap imports. He also wanted an olive that larger olive growers couldn’t grow. Martin chose the Frantoio variety for his 30 acres.

“A University of California Cooperative Extension guy suggested the variety,” he said. “The fruit makes a really distinctive, desirable flavor and beautiful oil.”

Although there are 500 types of olives in California most are varieties first planted by the missionaries.

His premium grade olive expresses a bigger flavor characteristic and fruity complexity, he said.

Workers in Martin’s orchard hand-pick the small olives. It takes five years for the trees to produce. Harvest extends from Oct. 30 to around Nov. 5. The fruit goes directly to his mill a couple of miles away. Olives are ground and then sent through a centrifuge to separate the oil from the pulp.

“My olive grove will become financially feasible when people know the difference between quality and inferior oil,” he said. “The only way is to taste the difference.”

California Olive Oil Council has strict regulations to certify an olive oil is extra virgin. Producers have to meet six chemical analysis criteria and a taste panel sensory evaluation. The sticker on the bottle means a consumer is getting the real thing.

“Actually, olive oil has a short shelf life,” he said. “I would say one year from the day I bottle. Light, air and heat are the three things that will change oil from good to bad. Exposure to sunlight can turn oil rancid in three months.” He said that if olive oil smells like crayons, wax or wet hay, it is rancid.

Jeff Martin

Family involved in business: Wife, Pam

Location: San Martin, Calif.

Crops: Olives

Acreage: 30

Favorite treat: Vanilla ice cream, topped with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.

Family farms a different kind of fruit Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:26:29 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER NIPOMO, Calif. — Bob Criswell’s parents bought a neglected farm 25 years ago and the family began the task of learning all about kiwifruit.

“They didn’t know anything about farming so it was a leap from the retail industry,” he said. “There was a man living on the property who was watering to keep the vines alive. He knew all about kiwifruit so he became our teacher.”

The Criswells learned how to prune the vines, grafting, installing trellises for the 6-foot vines and also learned kiwifruit is a low maintenance crop. Kiwifruit does not attract pests so chemical sprays are not needed.

Kiwifruit is mostly grown from the Sacramento area south to Fresno.

“We are located near the coast where the fog keeps the temperatures lower,” he said. “We harvest in November, unlike the hotter areas that pick in October. Our kiwi has a distinct flavor. They are not as tart as those you find in grocery stores. We are on a mesa near Pismo Beach and the soil is 100 percent sand that seems to percolate.”

The kiwifruit is picked green. The sugar levels are low, the fruit is rock hard and inedible. Next, the fruit is placed in a 10-by-6-foot air-tight ripening chamber with boxes of ripe apples. After four to five days, ethylene gas builds up and the kiwi is ripe and sweet for the market.

Workers hand pick around 80,000 pounds during the season. The fruit that is not sold immediately goes into cold storage, like apples, to ward off spoilage.

“Kiwi is not a huge moneymaker like strawberries, but we are the only growers in this area,” Criswell said. “We do not market our fruit with a broker. We only sell to local stores and at farmers’ markets.”

The biggest misconception about the furry fruit is that it is tropical. Just like grapes, the vines need cold in the winter so the crops can’t grow in a tropical climate. Many consumers think New Zealand — with which the kiwifruit is commonly associated — is tropical. Criswell said the heavier the frost in the dormant months, the better the fruit.

U.S. kiwifruit production trails Italy, New Zealand and Chile by significant margins. Although there are fewer than 300 growers in California, 98 percent of the kiwifruit grown in the nation comes from the Golden State.

Kiwifruit’s popularity exploded in the 1970s. It was a fad then because it was only available four to five months out of the year because it shipped from New Zealand.

Kiwifruit is the most nutrient-dense fruit with 2 times the vitamin C of an orange and 20 percent more potassium than a banana.

Criswell said people still ask how to eat one.

“I tell customers that skin is edible too with just a slight hint of bitterness,” he said. “Just wash it first and eat the whole fruit. The skin tastes similar to that of a peach.”

Mallard Lake Ranch

Name: Bob Criswell

Family involved: Wife, Kristen, and parents, Jane and Don Criswell

Location: Nipomo, Calif.

Crop: Kiwifruit

Acreage: 10