Ah September, how we’ve missed you! Yes, summer is great and all- but by September we’re ready for something different. Some cooling breezes, some changing leaves. Something fresh, crunchy and quintessentially fall. Something like an Asian pear…
In case it wasn’t obvious, Asian pears are September’s featured produce item for the Harvest of the Month! Part of Sierra Harvest’s farm to school program, the Harvest of the Month is a delicious way for students to sample fresh, local, seasonal produce items throughout the school year.
The magical pears that 7,000 students sampled this month came from some hometown boys- Grayson and Cody Curtis of Bonanza Gardens.
These brothers were raised right here and attended the very schools that their pears were distributed at. We caught up with Grayson to find out more about Bonanza Gardens, challenges facing beginning farmers and what’s next for the Curtis brothers.
Tell us about the Asian pear orchard- how big is it? How long has it been established? What kind of agreement do you have with the landowners and how did you find them?
The Asian pear orchard is approximately 100 trees, and .5 acres. The trees were planted in the mid 1990s so they are around 30 years old. We have a crop share agreement with the landowners, Dave and Terri Sluka. Under our agreement we do all of the major work (pruning, pest control applications, thinning, harvest, sales), and split the proceeds from the crop. Dave and Terri have been great, they are very generous and supportive. They have given us lots of advice from their experience managing the orchard as well as helped us manage irrigation. We found them originally because they wanted someone to prune the orchard, we ended up offering to prune the orchard for free and take on the rest of the management as well.
Where did you get the name Bonanza Gardens? Are you doing just fruit or veggies too? How long have you been farming?
We named ourselves Bonanza Gardens on a whim and as a reflection of the local history. A Bonanza is a stroke of good luck, the word originally comes from the archaic Spanish for fair weather, and entered American English in the goldfields and farms of the American West. Fair weather and good fortune are the about best one can hope for in farming so it seemed like an auspicious name. Considering we got a bumper crop of Asian pears, and Sierra Harvest came through with a place for them to go I’d say the good luck charm worked!
We are growing .75 acres of mixed annual fruits and vegetables (green onions, winter squash, melons, beans, and corn), in addition to managing a 2-acre apple and Asian pear orchard. Both of us have been farmworkers for 5 years, on farms throughout Northern California- including local farms First Rain, Dinner Bell and Super Tuber. We started Bonanza Gardens as a side project while continuing to work for other farmers in June of 2016.
Why did you want to be a part of the Harvest of the Month program?
We wanted to be a part of the program because it was both a great opportunity for us to find an outlet for our pears, and out of excitement at the opportunity to introduce kids to the wonderful world of truly fresh, flavorful, and sustainably produced fruit.
What are your future plans?
We are part of a group of young farmworkers working towards starting a worker cooperative farm. This means each of the workers will share equally in ownership, management, risks and rewards of the farm business. We have a promising land opportunity and hope to be growing fruits and veggies for years to come.
Why do you think sustainable farming is important?
Sustainable farming is important because food, land, and work are important. We are direly in need of creative and constructive alternatives to the conventional and harmful means we produce food, manage land, and work together. We’re motivated by the desire to help make the world a place where the food is good, the land is cared for, and work is fulfilling.
How can our community help support new and aspiring farmers?
The local community can support new and aspiring farmers a number of ways. Supporting the institutions and business that support small farms. We would be nowhere near as successful without the support and partnership with Sierra Harvest, and the Briar Patch Coop. Both are pillars of the local farming community and deserve support.
Another way to help is to offer resources to aspiring farmers. If you have land available suitable for farming list it on the Sierra Harvest land bank listing, or on California FarmLink. New farmers are often self-financing on a shoestring budget, so offering generous lease terms helps. You might even enjoy having a farmer around.