Meet Your Farmer! Joan Lewis of Pearson Family Orchard

December’s Harvest of the Month treat was persimmons from Pearson Family Orchard — the kids went crazy for a fruit that few of them had previously tasted. I spoke with Joan Lewis of Pearson Family Orchard about her growing practices and the farming lifestyle…

John Pearson, Joan's mom (Mary Pearson) who is 85 years old and still farming, and Joan Lewis
John Pearson, Joan’s mom (Mary Pearson) who is 85 years old and still farming, and Joan Lewis

SH: Tell me about Pearson Family Orchard – what do you grow besides those delicious HOM persimmons?

Joan: Stone fruit is what we grow. Early in the season we have a few cherries, apricots. Then we have peaches from May through October. That’s our main crop. We planned it so that our ripening dates are staggered and they are all a little bit different. Over the past few years we added nectarines, plums, and apples. My mom and dad grow prunes that we sell to SunSweet. We also sell some walnuts. We recently discovered ambrosia melons and planted them since we had some extra space – they are really tasty. We sell whatever we don’t eat.

SH: Tell me about your growing practices. Is your fruit organic?

Joan: Our fruit and veggies are 100% clean (meaning they are residue free), nutritious, and fresh (no cold storage here). Our produce is not *certified* organic. We grow sustainably and have grown that way for more than a generation. We all want clean, healthy, nutritious food – that’s the whole point. The label “organic” is not that important to me, and it’s expensive. We just try to do the right thing for our own health, because we are living in it (on the farm). Sometimes new people come by our booth at the market and ask if our produce is organic, and we say no, and they just walk away. It’s probably hurt our business, but we sell locally, and we have relationships with our customers– we sell through word of mouth.

We want to do the right thing for the land – we are here temporarily, and want to preserve the health of the land for future generations.  I live in the orchard, so we are very careful about anything we apply to our fruit, and we don’t want to hurt the bees – we have natural bee hives and we bring in some extra hives for pollination. We use nitrogen fixing cover crops, which cuts down on the need for fertilizer. My dad was one of the first farmers in this area to use drip irrigation, so we have 100% drip irrigation and we are 99% non-till. Not rototilling (except in the vegetable garden) helps the fertility of our soil.

persimmonsSH: Your family has been farming for generations. Did you always know you would farm as well?

Joan: I left the farm – farming is a lot of work and as a child, I didn’t appreciate living on a farm. I went to college and got a degree in nursing, and I was a nurse for over 20 years in Sacramento, but I wanted to raise my kids here, so we came back to my parents’ farm. I’m glad I got to get out and travel, because now I really appreciate it here.

My son is not going to be a farmer. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin. But my daughter sells with me at the Nevada City Farmer’s market – she is very interested in the farm.

persimmon_boxesSH: What advice would you give to young farmers who are just starting out today?

Joan: Don’t give up! Some years are really great years, and some aren’t. Learn from your failures, as well as your success. The farmer’s slogan is: “There’s always next year”.

SH: What do you do when you are not farming?

Joan: My dad and brother work full time on the farm every day, even in the winter. Right now they are pruning, ordering new trees, re-planting trees, making sure the water is draining, planning for the next season. We are always busy. In February, we are taking some time off to ride in a bike rally in Palm Springs with my 87-year old father.