Detective Dan and the Citrus Freeze January 22, 2007

You’ve probably heard a great deal this week about the citrus freeze that attacked California just like Mr. Cold-Miser laid it down over South Town in a fit of stop-animation history. With all the media coverage, we thought we’d investigate for ourselves about damage to our family farm growers. Dan traveled to Ojai to visit Lakeview Farms to get the story.

Mike Shore, who supplies our clementines and who I wrote about last week, met Dan in his 18-acre citrus grove. During the 36 coldest hours of the freeze, Mike’s extended family rallied around the farm, driving from all over California to get to Ojai and help keep the orchard warm. Mike and his family set small bonfires between the trees – tearing down twigs and even old beehives to find enough wood to keep the flames burning. The fires were set no more than 20 feet apart on all rows of the orchard. Mike then turned on both of his two turbine fans to keep the fire-warmed air circulating around his grove. The cold settled at night into the lowest portions of their valley. The family raced throughout the orchard tending to the fires. When Dan asked him how he did it, Mike’s response was stoic and pragmatic: “It’s our family farm; we just do what we have to do.”

Mike drove Dan around the property in one of his small and dusty Suzuki 4-wheel Samurais. Mike’s trees are planted so closely together on the terraced hill that the family hooks a trailer behind the vehicle and picks mercots and clementines while driving under the branches. Dan noted that it was like being on a donkey riding a ridge on the Grand Canyon. Dan and Mike drove up to the hill, inspecting the crop to be picked for The FruitGuys next week. Mike slowed the vehicle as it passed narrowly between the intertwined branches of his trees. A mercot branch snapped in through the window. Mike reached up, plucked the fruit, peeled and tried a wedge. He smiled and turned to Dan. “These are gonna be fine.”

Enjoy and be fruitful! – Chris Mittelstaedt

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