California Bountiful Magazine - July/August 2020


July/August 2020

Wilderness ADVENTURES Saddl e up & explore! Page 16

WINE TOUR revelations Page 12

New & exotic YUMBERRY Page 6

Summer’s BEST RECIPES Page 36

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4 From the editors 5 A la carte 11 Now from Nationwide 30 Starrh of the show 34 Book reviews 41 On location: Tehama County 42 Gardening 44 Take 5 46 It’s a bountiful life

Yum’s the word Californians relish their first taste of exotic yangmei. Wines reflect a sense of place Regional tour explores wine and its roots. Family heirlooms Ranch grows heritage stone fruit for a new generation. Reaching out Californians seek ways to help others during pandemic. Creative collaborations Winery chefs give voice to seasonal ingredients.






ON THE COVER: Horses, mules and cowboys team up to take guests into the back country, Page 16.

Photo: Lori Eanes 3

From the editors

The power of


Karen Olson Director, Marketing/Communications Division Dave Kranz Director, Publications & Media Relations

Barbara Arciero Managing Editor

We recently read a piece by the president of the American Farm Bureau titled “The power of positivity” and thought, yes, that’s exactly the message we’d like to share here in welcoming you to this issue of California Bountiful magazine. Our intent is not to downplay the calamity of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s simply toensurewe take time to focus on thepositives as well—and there are plenty. Just thumb through our story called “Reaching out,” which offers a snapshot of the ways Californians have helped one another cope with the crisis. Through creative problem solving, people in all parts of the state are harnessing the power of positivity to regain some of what’s been lost. The American Farm Bureau president also pointed out in his piece that farmers and ranchers are naturally positive people. We can attest to that—and we hope the stories here provide compelling examples of how the work they do impacts our lives in positive ways. Do you count the days until your favorite summertime fruit appears in the market? Have you dreamed of exploring the wilderness astride a horse? Known where the grapes were grown just by sampling a wine? Ever heard of yangmei? Maybe your answers are “yes” or “no” or a few of each. Nomatter: This issue

Kevin Hecteman, Ching Lee, Christine Souza, Tracy Sellers,

Megan Alpers-Raschefsky, Jolaine Collins, Pat Rubin Writers Lori Eanes, Richard Green, Alex Horvath

Photographers Karin Bakotich Design Services Manager

Jessica Cook Paula Erath Graphic Artists Margaret Rodriguez Darla Quidachay Production Chris Tedesco Manager, Business Development Robert Foiles Advertising Sales

Subscribe: California Bountiful is available to associate members of county FarmBureaus in California and by subscription. Please call or visit our website for more information.

of California Bountiful delves into those topics and more with the hope of offering you insight into the agricultural treasures of the Golden State. We’re positive of that.

Contact us: California Bountiful, 2600 River Plaza Drive,

Sacramento, CA 95833 800-698-FARM (3276)

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California Bountiful ® (ISSN 0194-5165) is published bimonthly by the California Farm Bureau Federation, 2600 River Plaza Drive, Sacramento, CA 95833 (telephone: 916-561‑5552). Non-profit periodicals postage paid at Sacramento, California. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to California Bountiful, 2600 River Plaza Drive, Sacramento, CA 95833. The California Farm Bureau Federation does not assume responsibility for statements by advertisers or for products advertised in California Bountiful, nor does the Federation assume responsibility for statements or expressions of opinion other than in editorials or in articles showing authorship by an officer, director or employee of the California Farm Bureau Federation or its affiliates.


July/August 2020

a la carte

Watch this!

If you love California Bountiful magazine, you’ll love California Bountiful TV! It’s the only program that takes you behind the scenes at farms, ranches, restaurants, wineries and artisan food companies to show the journey of food from the farm to your fork. Hosted by Tracy Sellers, the 30-minute weekly program can be viewed throughout the state (and nationally on RFD-TV). Tune in to see the dynamic people, places and plates that make California so bountiful. To learnwhere to watchCalifornia Bountiful TV in your area, visit



Summer gardening


When Mother Nature turns up the heat, there are many garden activities to help plants and f lowers thrive—and provide beauty and bounty year-round. For example, now’s the time to prune wisteria, divide and replant irises, deadhead f lowers, and plant a second crop of radishes and beans. These tips and more come from California Bountiful gardening expert Pat Rubin, who offers seasonal advice and a month-by-month gardening to-do list at

Fresh, crisp and even


Lettuce is one of the most consumed fresh vegetables and plays an important role in American diets. As such, California researchers say increasing nutrients in this popular leafy green could improve health without asking people to change their dietary habits. The lettuce of the future, they say, will provide more vitamin C, antioxidants and beta carotene. So lettuce celebrate this good news! 5

’ the word

The Asian stone fruit yangmei comes from an evergreen tree in the same family as eucalyptus, guava and myrtle.


July/August 2020

Californians relish their first taste of exotic yangmei

Story by Ching Lee • Photos by Lori Eanes

Ask Yunfei Chen to describe the taste of the Asian fruit yangmei and the suburban backyard grower is stumped, instead offering how first-time tasters have described it to him: a mix of strawberry, mulberry and pomegranate. To him, though, these comparisons don’t quite hit the mark or do the fruit justice. “I actually kind of disagree with them that it

From seed to market in 10 years With fruit ranging in color from bright red to deep burgundy, yangmei is between the size of a Bing cherry and a smal l plum. Bumpy on the outside, the inside f lesh reveals tiny, individual strands of fruit connected to a pit similar to that of a cherry. Imagine a little, edible pom-pom. A s c i ent i s t work i ng i n d i a gnos t i c s a nd

resembles any of those f lavors,” Chen said. “It has a unique flavor of its own. Until you taste it, it would be hard to accurately describe.” Perhaps that’s why yangmei (pronounced yang-may), as it is called in China, has amassed so many different names, including bayber r y, wa xber r y, Chine se strawberry, yamamomo in Japan and, more recently, yumberry. Its scientific name is Myrica rubra, and it’s an evergreen tree in the same family as eucalyptus, guava and myrtle.

biotechnology—and known for his green thumb—Chen f irst started growing yangmei in 2009 from seeds a colleague gave him. A few years later, he joined efforts by members of the Ca l i fornia Rare Fruit Growers, an amateur fruit-growing organization with enthusiasts all over the world, to impor t trees f rom China and cultivate yangmei.

Though none of the imported trees lived long enough to bear fruit, Chen managed to cut shoots from them and grafted the cuttings to the seed-grown yangmei plants he started in 2009, successfully growing the trees to production. Lucero, whose background is in law and Chinese history, heard about Chen’s plantings through the CRFG group and approached him about starting a business. Limited quantities from Chen’s trees are expected to hit the market again this year. Though the fruit sold for about $50 a pound last year, Lucero said the high price served more to generate attention and that it won’t be “crazy-expensive like caviar” as production increases. “It will never be as common as cherries,” he said, “but we’re fine with that as long as it’s out there and available. People seem to be intrigued by it because it’s a beautiful-looking fruit. I think the taste will win over people.”

Yunfei Chen grows yangmei in his backyard in Fremont.

UntilChen’s backyardplantings inAlamedaCounty bore fruit in 2015, yangmei represented a “taste from my childhood,”he said, as the sweet and tart subtropical stone fruit had been absent fromhis life after hemoved to the States fromChina’s easternprovince of Zhejiang, famous for its yangmei production. Along with his business partner, Charlie Lucero, and several California growers, Chen has been working to commercialize yangmei in the U.S., where you’d be hard-pressed to find the fresh fruit anywhere. Chen and Lucero’s company Calmei is now the first U.S. supplier of California-grown yangmei, selling its first harvest last year at the San Francisco specialty grocer Bi-Rite Market. “I want to make this a major fruit crop in the U.S., not just in China,” Chen said.

Farmer wonders, is this the new kiwifruit? Bin Hu and h er husband, Lawrence Lee, are now growing some of Calmei’s first commercial plantings of yangmei on their farm inVacaville. The couple came from the high-tech industry, she an engineer and he on the business side. Hu said she initially viewed the farm more as a hobby than a business venture, as growing yangmei serves to satisfy a nostalgic longing for the fruit that’s abundant in the mountains of her native hometown in Zhejiang province. She recounted childhood memories of feasting from wild yangmei trees all day long, so much that her mouth got sore. “But it was so good. You just can’t stop,” she said. It had been more than 25 years since she’d had any yangmei when she sawChen successfully grew the trees in his backyard, Hu noted. “I’m like, ‘Wow, let’s talk. We have a farm and we’re trying to figure out what to dowith the farm,’” she said. Hu acknowledged the risk of trying to growyangmei in California, where the dry, hot summers are unlike the warm, humid climate of Zhejiang province where yangmei thrives. Some ofHu and Lee’s initial plantings did not survive, but Hu said her deep-rooted feelings about the fruit andher belief in itsmarket potential have kept her planting more yangmei—and experimenting with how best to grow it in the Golden State. With its “excellent flavor,” yangmei would appeal not only toChinese fans of the fruit but more generally, she said, noting the “overwhelming” response from

Chen, with business partner Charlie Lucero, below, is working to commercialize yangmei production in the U.S. At right, Chen shows his grafting technique.


July/August 2020

non-Asian shoppers at Bi-Rite Market when yangmei made its debut there last year. Hu said she envisions yangmei becoming the new kiwifruit, also native to eastern China and once considered an exotic fruit before Australians commercialized it. “We believe (yangmei) can become a very popular exotic fruit on America’s dining table,” she said. “Plus, when you look at it—it’s so pretty.” Big potential for small fruit Lee, who is Chinese but grewup inMalaysia, had never experienced fresh yangmei until two years ago in Chen’s backyard and on a recent trip to China. He said he remembers dried, candied versions of yangmei as a kid and liked it, but now prefers to eat yangmei “straight up.” “It’s refreshing, so you think about it when it’s a hot day—like I’m thinking about it now and I salivate,” Lee said. He said he thinks yangmei could someday become a staple summer fruit in the U.S., with the market appeal of strawberries and raspberries, except it would be abitmore expensivebecauseof its limitedavailability and short season—about three weeks starting in late June and early July, depending on the weather.

Lucero said it’s been interesting to see the Instagram posts of people who bought yangmei at Bi-Rite and what they did with it—frommaking yangmei syrup to jelly, candy and ice cream. In China, yangmei has been used medicinally for centuries, he said, though it is most often eaten as a fresh fruit. In addition to being dried and candied, the fruit has beenmade into juice and yangmei-infused alcoholic drinks. Hu said frozen yangmei would make great smoothies. The fruit would also go well in a barbecue sauce or as a marinade for meat, she added. Lucero said Calmei hopes to bring yangmei out of obscurity in the U.S. by getting it “front and center to tastemakers and influencers” such as chefs, to develop recipes and more uses for the fruit. He noted the company has already received “a lot of inquiries” fromgrocery stores across the country and from restaurants as far away as Boston, saying they want to incorporate yangmei in their cocktail menus. “I’m excited for what the future brings,” he said. “It’s a great platform for people to do new and exciting things.”

Ching Lee

MORE ONLINE To learn more about yangmei, watch the video at

Yangmei from Chen's backyard made its debut last year at Bi-Rite Market in San Franciso, left and above, selling for $49.99 a pound.

highlight yangmei's unique qualities

These thumbprint cookies are a family tradition for Calmei co-founder Charlie Lucero, whose mom, Cindy, originally made them every Christmas with different fruit fillings. The cookies are so good, she said, that she’s been making them throughout the year, these days with the addition of yangmei, which she describes as a cross between a pomegranate and a cherry with “a really complex flavor.” “I think everyone comes away with a different perspective on what it tastes like,” Cindy Lucero said. Because yangmei grows in the summer, she said she thought the fruit would be perfect for the thumbprint filling, as it would “cut the richness of the cookie and make it more summery.” She said she also wanted to preserve yangmei’s unique appearance, pretty color and appealing texture in the cookies. “Luckily, it’s also not too juicy, so it didn’t need to be made into a jam or a jelly to serve as the cookie filling,” she said. “And putting it in fresh didn’t make the cookies soggy, either, which really makes it a versatile fruit in terms of baking.” This season, Lucero said she plans to continue experimenting with yangmei in other recipes, starting with yangmei jam.

thumbprint cookies

Makes 18

1 egg, separated 1/2 cup butter, softened 1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup all-purpose flour 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract 1/4 tsp. salt 1/4 cup chopped pecans 1 cup pitted yangmei

Preheat oven to 300 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Cream together egg yolk, butter and brown sugar. Add flour, vanilla and salt, mixing well. Shape dough into balls. Roll in beaten egg white, then pecans. Place on cookie sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove cookies from oven. With thumb, dent each cookie. Put yangmei in each thumbprint. Bake for another 8 minutes.

Photo courtesy of Liz Lucero


July/August 2020

now from Nationwide

Couple discusses benefits of long-term care insurance Protecting your legacy

Wade and KirstenMcAfee are FarmBureaumembers who manage a grain farm in its sixth generation. They know there are many things you can’t control when growing crops and raising livestock. “As farmers, we do everything we possibly can to grow good crops or raise healthy animals, and sometimes Mother Nature is hard on us and we have no control over that,” Wade said. While there’s no controlling Mother Nature, the McAfees have made sure to focus on what they can control to help prepare for the unexpected. Therefore, after their son Braxton was born, they wanted to make sure that if anything happened to one of them, they could still care for the entire family while keeping the farm intact. They met with their Nationwide agent to discuss how they could protect their family and farm above and beyond the life insurance policies they already had. That’s when they learned about a long-term care policy. “The long-term care for us, with farming being a dangerous business and the risks that are involved, I wanted to make sure that should something happen to one of us, we would have the care that we needed and

still have the farm business operational and not have to take away from that piece of it,” Kirsten said. “We don’t know what our health will be like in 30 years. By looking at the long-term policy, we can map out our future a little better,” Wade said. As they know their needs may change over time, the McAfees said they appreciate the availability of their agent and take advantage of the annual On Your Side Review. “We have a yearly On Your Side Review, andmy agent comes out and speaks with me and we discuss anything new, anything I may have lost that I don’t need insured, or maybe I fixed up a building and I want to add more insurance to that. I really never did that before, and that’s really peace of mind for me,” Wade said. Kirsten said she knows their farm is different and unique from the next and appreciated that her agent recognized that as well. “Nationwide really opened my eyes to the policy I used to have and what was not actually insured under that policy that I thought was,” she said. “That was one of the main reasons I gave Nationwide my business for my farm,” Wade said.

Article contributed by Nationwide, which is endorsed by the California Farm Bureau Federation. Testimonials are not representative of the experience of other clients, are no guarantee of future performance or success, and are not paid endorsements. The information contained herein was prepared to support the promotion, marketing and/or sale of life insurance contracts, annuity contracts and/or other products and services provided by Nationwide Life and Annuity Insurance Company. When purchasing life insurance, be sure to choose a product that meets long-term life insurance needs, especially if personal situations change—for example, marriage, birth of a child or job promotion. Weigh the costs of the policy, and understand that life insurance has fees and charges that vary with sex, health, age and tobacco use. Riders that customize your policy to fit your individual needs usually carry additional charges, may not be available in certain states and may be known by different names. Long-term care insurance does have exclusions, limitations, reductions of benefits, and terms under which the policy may be continued in force or discontinued. For more details on cost and coverage options, contact your insurance professional. All guarantees and benefits of the insurance policy are subject to the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company. Policy guarantees and benefits are not backed by the broker/dealer and/or insurance agency selling the policy, nor by any of their affiliates, and none of them makes any representation or guarantees regarding the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company. Products are issued by Nationwide Life and Annuity Insurance Company, Columbus, Ohio. Nationwide, the Nationwide N and Eagle and Nationwide is on your side are service marks of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company © 2019 Nationwide 11


July/August 2020

California wines are recognized throughout the world for their quality and diversity. But what makes these wines so special? It starts with the grapes. Winegrapes in the Golden State f lourish for the same reasons people like living here: abundant sunshine and a wide variety of climates and geography. There’s a perfect place for growing just about every type of grape, each with a surprising range of characteristics. California grape growers prove this by producing more than 100 varieties of white and red winegrapes, from obscure aglianico to popular zinfandel. Distinguishing characteristics More than 635,000 acres of winegrapes are planted throughout California in a wide variety of regions that are delineated as appellations—def ined either by a county or other political boundary, or by federally recognized growing regions, called American Viticultural Areas. California currently has 139 AVAs. Every appellation produces wines with pedigrees that distinguish them from those grown in other appellations. That’s why, for instance, a syrah grown along the coast of Santa Barbara County tastes different than a syrah grown in the rugged Sierra Nevada foothills. Winemakers often say their job is to allow the nuances of a grape—including its climate, soils and terrain—to be expressed through their wines. These combined qualities are known as “terroir,” a French term that simply means a sense of place. Regional tour explores wine and its roots

Grapes used to make wines from the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County are distinguished by the area’s cooling fog, afternoon winds and extended sun exposure.

Sommeliers compare wines and learn grape-growing techniques— including the use of owls to control pests, above right. Grower Mark Pisoni, bottom, shares insights.

Santa Lucia Highlands AVA One of the best ways to appreciate the concept of terroir is to experience it. Savvy growers andwinemakers, including those in the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County, create educational tastings and vineyard tours that do just that for wine enthusiasts. For the past six summers, the Santa LuciaHighlands AVA has hosted sommeliers from around the country for a two-and-a-half-day tour, allowing them to experience what makes the Santa Lucia Highlands unique—including its sun, wind and winemaking practices. (Due to the pandemic, organizers this year plan to host a virtual event.) Known for it s highly rated pinot noi r and chardonnay, this small, cool-climate AVA is part of the western mountain range that shields the Salinas Valley from the Pacif ic Ocean. The Santa Lucia Highlands is notable for its cooling fog, afternoon winds and extended sun exposure that lengthen the growing season and allow the grapes to develop complex f lavors and a crisp acidity. “The SLH Somm Tour is great for wine education and connecting people with our appellation,” said Mark Pisoni, a third-generation farmer and vineyard manager of Pisoni Vineyards. “The (sommeliers) tour our ranches to dig in the soils, experience the wind and weather, and better appreciate why our wines taste the way they do.” One of Pisoni’s favorite activities during the SLH SommTour is introducing guests to crop thinning. “We take them into the vineyards to experience the work we do and understand how it affects the wines,” he said. Armed with a pair of clippers in a row of vines, participants learn how to drop fruit—clearing out clusters of grapes to give other clusters better air circulation, more sunlight and less disease pressure—to create higher quality wines.


July/August 2020

Tour participants explore soils and thin grapevines with the help of growers including Steve McIntyre.

Bringing it back to the glass One of the participating sommeliers in last year’s tour, Kenji Makino of Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino, said being in the vineyards and hearing from the SLH winemaking community helped him appreciate each winery’s approach to winegrowing. “Thinning the crop, I saw that they could have kept all the fruit on the vines and hadmore grapes. But they chose to keep only the best on the vine to create better wines,” Makino said. “You can’t make great wine without great grapes.” Vineyard tours gave him a better understanding of the region’s terroir and its effect on the wines, he sa id. Ta st ing semina rs of fered insight s into winemaking styles. “I’ve taken those things into considerationwith food

pairings in my restaurant, or when guiding someone with a recommendation based on the style of wine that they like,” Makino said. Gary Franscioni, founder of ROAR Wines and another third-generation Santa Lucia Highlands farmer, says the tour helps wine specialists and their customers appreciate what it takes to make wine. “We try to cover the whole spectrum, fromgrowing towinemaking,” Franscioni said. “Wework in the vines and we do side-by-side tastings to compare the wines. It’s all an experience.When someone is wearing a jacket in our vineyards at 1 o’clock in July, they really get that this is a cool growing region.”

Jolaine Collins

MORE ONLINE How does the pedigree of a winegrowing region such as the Santa Lucia Highlands show through its wines? See what sommeliers learned during their 2019 tour of this cool-weather appellation at

its label, at least 85 percent of the wine’s grapes must be grown in that AVA. For county names, that proportion is 75%. • Napa Valley was California’s first AVA, established in 1981. • If a wine’s label lists California or a California AVA as its origin, it means 100% of the grapes were grown in the Golden State. • Farmers grow grapes in nearly every California county. California produces about 80% of the nation’s wine and is the fourth-largest wine producer in the world.

Every California wine label lists the geographic origin, or appellation, where the wine’s grapes were grown. Knowing which appellations you prefer for the varietals you enjoy will help guide you through your wine adventures. • In California, the geographic origins of winegrapes are either identified by county or other political boundaries, or by federally recognized growing regions called American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs. • California has 139 AVAs—each with a distinct, grape- growing pedigree that delineates it from other AVAs. • For a wine to display the name of an AVA on

Source: Wine Institute


July/August 2020

Horses and mules take guests into back country

Story by Christine Souza • Photos by Lori Eanes

In the days before 20th-century transportation and paved roads, settlers relied on pack animals including horses and mules to move people and supplies to formerly inaccessible locations across the Sierra Nevada and rugged West. “Once the Gold Rush hit, miners had to get supplies such as shovels and food to remote places and where there were no roads, so pack mules were used,” said Seth Diemel, co-owner of Aspen Meadow Pack Station in Pinecrest, a popular recreation area in the Stanislaus National Forest. “You can move a lot of gear in a hurry with a string of pack animals. Today, pack animals are used for recreation, but at times are still used to move supplies.” The recreational use he speaks of provides an opportunity for people to enjoy the outdoors, away from crowds. One of the oldest national forests, Stanislaus National Forest encompasses about 1,400 square miles in four counties and lies adjacent to the northwestern part of Yosemite National Park. Diemel described his typical customer as an urban resident from the Bay Area or Central Valley. “The experience of going to the mountains for most people is pretty rare anymore, unless they go on a trip like we offer,” he said. Aspen Meadow trips are back-country trail rides, with travel on horseback accompanied by pack mules. Views include granite peaks, alpine meadows, lakes and

Surrounded by stunning

wilderness views, the Schuler family enjoys a trail ride hosted through Aspen Meadow Pack Station in Pinecrest.

wildlife. The trips are led by experienced packers, while trained horses and nimble mules carry riders and gear to nearby points of interest from June to September each year, depending on snowfall. ‘Trip of a lifetime’ Aspen Meadow Pack Station, with roots dating to 1929, is the mountainous base of operations and starting point for trail rides and back-country experiences that many guests describe as “a trip of a lifetime.” Louis Hughes, a business owner from Forestville, is a returning guest who now plans pack trips for family and friends. “It’s become the family destination for getting up into the wild, particularly a place we discovered a few years ago that we rea l ly l ike, Granite Lake, which we practically have to ourselves,” he said. Aspen Meadow co-owner Doug Morgan has worked at the pack station for 20 years, having grown up riding horses and packing. He said he enjoys sharing the wilderness experience with guests and added, “We see a lot of kids that have never seen a horse, let alone been on a horse. It’s a magical thing for them.”

The pack station, which has led guests to the Emigrant Wilderness area for 91 years, is co-owned by Seth Diemel, shown below leading a team of pack mules, and Doug Morgan, below right, doing leather work in the shop.


July/August 2020

Many options, many opportunities According to Morgan and Diemel, most guests are families and groups of friends who enjoy the outdoors and backpacking, fishing or hunting. Aspen Meadow offers one-hour, two-hour, half-day and full-day trail rides, as well as more extensive experiences. For “drop pack” adventures, packers load gear and accompany guests on horseback to a designated wilderness location, then return later to repack and accompany riders back to base. With all-inclusive trips, packers remain with guests, cook meals and provide all gear. A longtime backpacker, Hughes said family and friends eagerly anticipate the drop-pack trips, where the group travels to a spot and stays put. “You can pack in just about everything you want. I’m impressed with the mules and their ability to pack all that gear and stay surefooted on the trails. We’ve had really fun day hikes, climbing to the tops of different peaks in the area, discovering new creeks and pools,” Hughes said. “It’s here for us to enjoy, just the interaction between the water, the granite and the trees and the high altitude. I love it. It’s just another world and it’s right in our own backyard.”

Ready, set, go When a trip is set to begin, guests arrive early at the pack station. Staff and volunteers saddle the trail horses and weigh and load gear into saddlebags, which are c a r e f u l l y ba l a nc ed on t he mu l e s . To en su r e surefootedness and a comfortable ride, Diemel said horses and mules are trained and ridden by staff for many years before they are able to carry a guest. Horses are matched to each rider’s ability—from novice to seasoned equestrian. Each mule carries a maximum of 150 pounds and can travel 20 miles or more per day, Diemel said. And when the season is over, the horses and mules relax at a Tuolumne County ranch until the next season begins. Hughes’ granddaughter, Sophia Schuler, now lives in Kansas but said her first experience riding a horse was as a teenager during a family pack trip with Aspen Meadow. She’s been hooked ever since. “The people that run the pack station—we call them the cowboys because, I mean they’ve got spurs on their boots—they’re just so fun to talk to, and when you’re with them on horseback for four hours, it’s a great way to tell stories and enjoy the view,” she said. “The horses

The Schuler family, above, heads up the Gianelli Trail to Granite Lake. Morgan Stearns, right, bonds with horse Poncho.

all follow in a line and the mules carry our stuff behind us. It’s so easy.” Her grandfather agrees. “The guys at Aspen Meadow, they’re the best,” Hughes said. “It’s fun to just watch them do their cowboy thing.” Schuler’s father, Costas Schuler, a graphic designer/web developer from Forestville, described his first pack trip last year as “one of the best trips I’ve taken in my life.” “We brought all kinds of stuff with us,” he said. “Hikers would come by and say, ‘How’d you get a cooler out here?’ They didn’t have anything, and we’ve got boats and pots and pans—everything.” Traveling with family, including his four children ages 10 to 23, Costas Schuler said he didn’t miss the internet.

“It was beautiful,” he said, adding that it was special to enjoy nature, including a night swim in the lake. “Swimming through dragonf lies being hatched on top of the water and then watching them take off into the air—it was really a magical moment.” Pack trips provide the opportunity for people— young and older alike—to access wilderness locations that would otherwise be unavailable to them. “There’s no country in the world that has public lands like we do in California,” Diemel said. “People like being in the back country and getting away from it all. It’s incredible how much fun you can have.”

Christine Souza

MORE ONLINE Want to experience—virtually—what it’s like to go on the trail with Aspen Meadow Pack Station? Check out the video at


The mule, which is the offspring of a donkey and a horse, leads the pack when it comes to pack animals. Mules are surefooted, larger than an average horse, and can carry the weight of a pack or passenger for long distances. Mules are strong for their size and have an average lifespan of 30 to 50 years. They look similar to horses, but have longer ears, smoother muscles and more endurance. The mule inherits its athletic ability from the horse and its intelligence from the donkey. Its coat is mostly gray, brown, red or black. These equines first arrived in the U.S. in 1785, as a gift to George Washington from King Charles III of Spain. They helped shape the American landscape and played a critical role in agriculture until they were replaced by engine- powered machines. The term “mule” can be used for any hybrid of the two equine species. For example, crossing a male horse (stallion) and a female donkey (jenny) produces a hinny, and breeding a female horse (mare) with a male donkey (jack) also results in a mule. A mule cannot reproduce. Mules have a natural attraction to humans, and when treated with patience, kindness and understanding, learn to trust and obey. In addition to intelligence, mules are known to be patient and able to detect and avoid dangerous situations, which makes them excellent back-country trail companions.

Aspen Meadow Pack Station mules eat hay before carrying up to 150 pounds of gear each for a trail ride.



July/August 2020

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July/August 2020

Ranch grows heritage stone fruit for a new generation

Story by Jolaine Collins • Photos by Lori Eanes

Listening toMichele Bera talk about being a farmer of heirloom stone fruit, it’s hard to tell what she loves most: scouting the rare varieties that thrive in her family’s orchards, informing her customers about each fruit’s heritage, or witnessing those customers’ joy as they discover the sweet differences among the many varieties of heirloom peaches, plums, nectarines and apricots she brings to farmers markets. “It’s fun to research each unique variety, and sometimes I’ll contact nurseries all over the world to find a source. You just don’t see a lot of these fruits anymore,” Bera said. “I like bringing them to farmers markets because people are interested in trying unique things that they can’t find in grocery stores. I’ll tell them a bit about the fruit’s history and when they try it, they fall in love with it,” she said. When the Bera family planted their orchards near the western Sacramento Valley town of Winters more than 25 years ago, their goal was to be different. “We decided years ago to go against the grain,” said Michele’s husband, Frank, who heads the farming details with his father, Frank Sr. “We began planting older, less commercially viable varieties—really planting for f lavor, taste and quality.” He was familiar with many of the 50- to 100-year-old heirloom varieties because he grew up farming them on his father’s ranch in nearby Vacaville. Still, many of the trees on his 15-acre property have been planted using a trial-and-error method. “We didn’t call nurseries and ask them for the really cool varieties. We did the opposite. We asked for stuff that people don’t grow, things that are hard to grow and don’t produce much, and things that don’t have the shelf life that you might find in a modern variety,” he said.

The Bera family, including Frank Bera, above, grows nearly 70 varieties of heirloom stone fruit on their ranch in Winters.

Bera Ranch has earned an enthusiastic following at

farmers markets, where customers know the seasons are short and quantities are limited for prized heirloom fruit.

Demand has continued to grow in the last several years, with many customers pre-ordering their favorite stone fruit by the case or wasting no time to approach Bera as she sets up her farmers market display. Some customers are poised to purchase their most-loved summer varieties at the first sign of their short harvest, knowing availability is limited. Talks at the market Bera and her fruit have been popular at the Napa Farmers Market for 25 years—partly because these unusual varieties herald some of the most delicious signs of summer, and also because Bera takes such pride in sharing them. Even before she began harvesting fruit in late May, Bera tried imagining how the market scene would feel this year with social distancing guidelines. She knew it would change the way people enjoyed gathering around for samples, sharing a hug and stopping to chat. “The experience is different, but as a farmer, we need to treat this like any other season. You can’t stop,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate to have a loyal following of people who love the fruit we grow. I’m grateful that they’ll still come out to support me—and vice versa.” One thing that hasn’t changed: She still takes time

Old-time favorites Some fruit grown on the ranch have roots that go back more than 100 years, which classif ies them as vintage varieties. The satisfaction of this family’s farming venture stems from knowing they are delivering tree-ripened f lavors and qualities that remind people of fruit picked from their grandparents’ backyard. They’re introducing old-time favorites to a new generation of foodies. Frank Bera concedes that farming heritage fruit “takes a lot of effort, and sometimes a lot of heartbreak. The se va r ie t ie s a re more sens it ive t han many commercial varieties.” Typically, the Beras plant five to 10 trees to see how a newly chosen variety grows. It usually takes at least five to seven years of pampering for the trees to produce enough fruit to bring to market. Currently, they grow nearly 70 varieties of stone fruit, which extends the ranch’s harvest season and ensures plenty of different offerings at each week’s market. “Depending on the fruit’s marketability and demand, we’ll decide whether to plant more of the same trees,” said Michele Bera, whose responsibilities include locating nursery sources and selling the fruit at farmers markets. “We learn by doing.”


July/August 2020

Michele Bera has helped introduce a new generation of food lovers to tree-ripened fruits such as those that might have grown in their grandparents’ backyards.

What ' s an

heirloom fruit?

to passionately describe the many varieties of fruit she displays in old-fashioned wooden lugs, each labeled with a sign indicating its history, characteristics and uses. “People enjoy learning about the fruit,” Bera said. “Part of my job as a farmer is to educate.” She’ll tell you about luxuriously sweet Green Gage plums, which can be traced back to 15th-century Europe. Bera also offers the history of nickel-sized Damson plums, used to dye clothes purple during Roman times, and which Bera says make “the best preserves you’ll ever eat.” She’s delighted to share heirloom Heavenly White nectarines, describing their “knock-your-socks-off ” high acid/sugar balance, as well as sweet and aromatic Strawberry Free white peaches. Bera’s green-tinted Blenheim apricots have developed a cult following among customers at the Napa and St. Helena farmersmarkets. There aren’tmany people growing Blenheims in California. “I have a hard time fulfilling the demand for them,” she said. Also called Royals, these delicate French apricots ripen from the inside out. “Some of these older varieties are quite fragile and have a limited shelf life, so we’ll lose some of the fruit. We’d rather take a sma l l loss i f it means having something unique and different,” she said.

Although there are different interpretations of what qualifies as “heirloom fruit,” these treasured varieties generally have a historical or cultural significance that’s been passed down through generations. Some heirlooms are hundreds of years old with international pedigrees, but most are 50 to 100 years old. They are prized for their intensity of flavors and aromas, and can be recognized for a lack of uniformity when it comes to shapes, sizes and colors. Heirloom varieties lost their broad appeal following World War II, when plant breeders began introducing fruit and vegetable hybrids for a changing marketplace. The current popularity and continuing existence of heirloom varieties can be credited to small farmers and home gardeners who have preserved them, often through experimentation. Heirlooms are generally grown on a small scale by farmers who plant and harvest them by hand. Many grocery stores have recently begun carrying heirloom varieties, but you’re most likely to find heirlooms at farmers markets or farm stands. 25

Heirloom fruit grown on the 15-acre Bera Ranch is handpicked and packed by three family members, including 81-year-old Frank Bera Sr., right, and son Frank.

the old-fashioned way—by hand, using ladders, metal buckets and vintage wooden lugs. “My 81-year-old father-in-law can pick 20 boxes of peaches in no time, and not break a sweat,” Bera said. Their harvest begins in late May with an early freestone peach called Springcrest. In midsummer, the Bera market stand features more than 10 varieties of both white and yellow heirloom peaches and nectarines and a wide variety of plums. “One year I had 17 varieties of plums at one time,” she said with a laugh. Harvest winds down by the end of September with late-season peaches such as Carnival, Fairtime and Summerset. The senior Frank Bera puts the family’s farming life into simple terms: “Michele tells us what she wants. We produce it. She sells it,” he said.

Loyal customers Emma Lipp, owner and chef at Valley restaurant in Sonoma, has traveled from her Sonoma home to Bera’s Napa market stand every Saturday for many summers. “I buy as much and as many different kinds of fruit that Michele has,” Lipp said. “We serve the fruit just as it is: delicious, fresh, beautiful stone fruit.” Longtime customer John Bisetti said Bera Ranch has “the most beautiful plums and peaches that I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. They’re beautiful in terms of their taste and color. I eat them fresh all day long— for snacks and breakfast.” Customer Mikey Kelly called Bera’s stone fruit “amazing,” adding, “I stack them up in rows on my countertop and let them ripen. I get made fun of by my family for it. I’m obsessed. It’s an addiction.” A family harvest Harvest time at Bera Ranch is a family affair. Frank, Michele and Frank Sr. harvest and pack all of their fruit

Jolaine Collins

MORE ONLINE Watch the action at Bera Ranch and the Napa Farmers Market, where the family’s heirloom fruit has been a hit for 25 years:


July/August 2020

Farm Bureau members receive $ 500


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2/13/20 11:54 AM

Reaching out

Californians seek ways to help others during pandemic

Story by Jolaine Collins

When COVID-19 struck a painful blow to California, it didn’t take long for people around the state—including those in the hard-hit rural community—to respond to support those who needed help. Here’s a look at some of those efforts.

Food banks get boost in support California farmers and agricultural businesses quickly responded to local food banks and organizations struggling to meet increased demand. The Farm to Family program beefed up its statewide efforts in a $15 million campaign that will distribute millions of pounds of food donated by farmers and ranchers to more than 40 food banks. A partnership between the state Department of Food and Agriculture and the California Association of Food Banks, Farm to Family works with nearly 130 farmers and has recently connected 200 additional farmers directly to local food banks. Family Meal provides food and employment In Sacramento, a chef-driven initiative called Family Meal has helped people in need while putting restaurant employees to work and keeping the food supply chain moving. Created as a partnership among five restaurants and supported by community donations and government funds, Family Meal was organized to supply free, pre-cooked meals during the shelter-in-place period. More than 50,000 meals were funded and served within the first two months of the program, and organizers are currently working to scale Family Meal statewide.


July/August 2020

Communities support online livestock auctions When county fairs across the state were canceled, the fallout included junior livestock auctions. Event organizers, supporters and county Farm Bureaus jumped in to ensure 4-H and FFA students had the opportunity to sell their animals through online auctions. In Tulare County, for example, organizers of the Porterville Fair turned to social media, declaring, “Here’s a golden opportunity to fill your freezer with high-quality meat and support the kids at the same time.” In five days, all of the animals were sold. Teen’s website connects to local farms Hearing that members of his community were eager to acquire local produce during the pandemic, a 14-year-old San Diego teen created a website called Farm Connect ( to link them with local farmers for purchases and deliveries. A link on his site to the San Diego County Farm Bureau provides a lengthy list of direct-market farms. Ag in the Classroom helps parents transition into teachers As learning moved from school classrooms into homes throughout the state, the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom pitched in to help teachers, parents and students with a program called #LearnAboutAg@Home. Lessons on teach students about their food sources with hands-on activities such as making butter, learning about honeybees and planting gardens. Distilleries pump out hand sanitizer When hand sanitizer became nearly impossible to find on store shelves, dozens of distilleries in California shifted their focus to crafting small batches of alcohol-based sanitizer to support public-safety efforts. Several, including Dry Diggings Distillery in El Dorado County, donated hundreds of gallons of hand sanitizer to first responders, health-care professionals, nursing homes and organizations working with at-risk populations. Blinking Owl Distillery in Orange County donated more than $10,000 in sanitizer to Southern California hospitals.

Jolaine Collins

Farmer honors family roots with stage production

Story by Kevin Hecteman

Farming and theater have something in common, as Larry Starrh sees it: Both require creativity. “Dad and Mom both were very creative,” said Starrh, a third-generation farmer with a theater degree. “You have to use your imagination and do a lot of things to evolve and to be up to date.” So the farmer took his act to town. A decade ago, he helped launch an annual arts festival in Shafter, called the Colours Festival, with the goal of adding culture to the community. Then an idea sprouted. “I got this wild hair to start writing shows,” Starrh said. And so, he did. A tribute in two acts His newest play, called “The Big Secret,” grew from the loss of the family patriarch. Larry’s father, Fred Starrh, died last year at age 89, leaving behind a decades-long legacy of cotton farming and farm advocacy. The elder Starrh served as president of the Kern County Farm Bureau from 1973 to 1975 and went on to serve on the California Farm Bureau Federation board of directors, among many other leadership roles in agricultural and water organizations. It was not an easy play to write. “I was just really struggling to come up with something,” Starrh said. “I knew I wanted to do this, but trying to find that vehicle to do it was very hard.” He researched his father’s side of the family, in the process learning of an aunt he never met who died by suicide. What he discovered prompted “a serious look at how we remember people, and how legacies are carried on.”


July/August 2020

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