John Ceteras runs the Blue Heron Farm in Capay Valley, California, a rural area not far from Sacramento. Growing up near a steel mill on the East Coast, he decided in his teens that he didn’t want to work at the mill like his father did. Instead, he chose to return to the land and start farming California oranges. When he was young, the newsreels and travelogues of orange groves had particularly intrigued him.
During the 1960s counterculture in Northern California, there was a general spirit of rebellion against the status quo. This included the conventional farming methods of the time, which used pesticides like DDT to protect crops but also harmed local wildlife in the process. Organic Gardening was a new, up-and-coming magazine that shared natural, healthier ways to garden on a small scale, but these methods had not been adopted at the farm level yet. Ceteras started reading the magazine in the late 1950s and adopted organic farming techniques on a small, backyard scale.
Initially, Blue Heron Farm started by using conventional fertilizers and chemicals, which nearly all of Ceteras’ neighbors were also working with at the time. When his wife Gretchen had their first child, Ceteras decided that it might be better to go back to an organic farming approach. Though he had previous experience with organic gardening, he wasn’t sure if he could maintain an entire farm using those methods. Although the process intimidated him, he knew that it was time to switch. He didn’t want his son running through an insecticide-ridden orchard, but really he knew that he needed his farm to help the planet, not harm it.
By getting closer with his farmer friends and neighbors in Yolo County — which has a large percentage of organic farmland — Blue Heron was able to build its organic knowledge and learn to sustain the soil without chemical assistance. They use cover cropping, compost, and a smart food source for the plants.
About 27 years later, Blue Heron is still farming its organic oranges, nuts, and other fruits using the same methods. John and Gretchen now have a grandson, who John hopes will build a passion for farming and continue their legacy. Ultimately, John wants to pass on the organic ideals that mean so much to his family. If the farm ended up in the wrong hands, they might not understand the care that has been put into the land over the years.
The Ceteras family knows that their farm still has to turn a profit to survive, but in working together with the FruitGuys, they can help deliver the freshest organic oranges to local customers all around California.