John Ceteras runs the Blue Heron Farm in Capay Valley, California, a rural area northwest of Sacramento. Growing up on the East Coast near a steel mill, 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.
Initially, Blue Heron Farm started by using conventional fertilizers and chemicals, which nearly all of Ceteras’ neighbors were also using at the time. When his wife Gretchen had their first child, Ceteras decided that it might be better to go back to a more organic approach. He had previous experience with organic gardening, but 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.
Ceteras releases wasps to “parasitize” the California Red Scale. This California Red Scale insect is known to be an invasive species that eats crops growing on farms. By using the wasps to help cut down the Scale population, Ceteras is able to cut down his use of pesticides, making the fruit better for consumers and for the land. In addition to the wasps, Ceteras practices other methods that eliminate the use of chemicals needed to get rid of insects that inhibit an abundant harvest. To get rid of the weeds growing around the crops, the farm mows down the weeds instead of spraying them with the risk of the fruit getting contaminated with the chemicals. By not using pesticides, there is more labor and money needed to grow crops organically. Ceteras believes that the extra effort put into growing his fruit without pesticides is well worth it because he wants the land to be able to sustain these fruit trees for years to come. These methods allow this to happen.
On 20 acres of farmland, the Ceteras family used certified organic practices to grow Washington navel oranges, Clementine and Satsuma mandarins, Valencia oranges, Black Mission figs, Sun Gold and Early Girl tomatoes, Chandler and Hartley walnuts, and other delicious varieties. In addition, Gretchen started a side business creating “dream gourds,” a process that involves growing and then burning gourds with wood to create beautiful designs.
About 27 years later, Blue Heron is still farming its California oranges, nuts, and other fruits organically. John and Gretchen now have a grandson, who John hopes will gain a passion for farming and continue their legacy. Their son had loved growing up on the farm, but he chose to live in the San Francisco Bay area and focus on environmental restoration causes. 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 or care about the hard work put into the land over the years.
The Ceteras family knows that their farm has to turn a profit in order to survive, but by partnering with the FruitGuys, they can help deliver the freshest oranges to local customers all around California.