How about a U-Pick CSA?
There is such a thing as too much love. Lucy and Torrey Olson’s Gabriel Farm in Sebastopol, CA (Sonoma County) was one of the few U-Pick apple farms in the San Francisco Bay Area. People loved to come pick Fuji apples, persimmons, and blackberries at the Olson's lovely 14-acre organic family farm.
“Somewhere in the last few years of overwhelming popularity we began to be unable to provide visitors with the education we wanted about life on a working small organic family farm,” said Lucy Olson. “So we decided to try a U-Pick model for CSA members.”
Education is important to the Olsons. One of Lucy’s degrees is in sustainable farming from U.C. Santa Cruz, while Torrey left work as a math teacher for farming. Lucy says the U-Pick CSA will make for a much richer farm visit experience. Members will be invited to pick blackberries, apples, and persimmons; experience blossom time and the lavender harvest; even come for tree pruning and tree planting events, as well as participate in seminars on farming practices. Already, they have 200 members and counting, many of them longtime U-Pick visitors.
“Those are the people that get it, that we’re a working family farm,” says Lucy. “The house that you see in the driveway is our house and all of the items that you encounter on the land are things that we use to work this land.”
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a system that allows consumers to further participate and support a local farm by becoming a paying subscriber to the farm. The benefits and costs of CSAs vary widely. For Gabriel Farm, membership is the cost of a box of their excellent Asian pear apple juice ($36), plus a per pound U-Pick fee. Their charming farm store also sells their Asian pears, home made conserves, jams, and juices.
Fall means the Asian pears are bending the boughs. Lucy is zooming backwards up the driveway in a forklift to pick up a pallet of boxes; the farm shop is whirling with fruit crate packing activity; and a young cat comes bounding out of the garden.
The Olsons have been providing The FruitGuys with premium organic fruit since 2004. When they first bought the farm it already had an array of Asian pears, Fuyu persimmons, and Fuji apple trees. Since then, they’ve made many sustainable farming improvements, including a solar array, lavender garden, and planted many more apple trees including the prized local Gravenstein apples.
Gabriel Farm was the site of the first project of the FruitGuys Farm Steward Program back in 2008 when four beehives were donated and installed. Lucy says the bees “are more like pets these days, they break off into swarms and we catch them—we don’t really have time to harvest the honey. Their job is to pollinate.”
Lucy says this year’s Asian pears are a particularly succulent crop. The irrigation was tweaked and the fruit is really juicy. The Asia pear season rolls out in September/October with bright yellow Shinseiki, then the citrusy 20th Century, and the russet Chojuro, with its hint of butterscotch flavor. Weather willing, Ya Li Asian pears bring up the caboose of the season in November.