It was just after the freeze of '37 that Mother and Dad and my sister moved to Ojai and Dad started farming Crooked Creek Ranch. Over half the trees had died during the freeze so over half the existing ranch was planted to Valencia Oranges and the rest was kept in navels. In 1938 dad sent a whole box car of navels to a grocery store in Cedar Rapids Iowa, where, accounts have it, they were an immediate sell out.
I was born in 39, Mom died in 40, the war came. Labor was scarce and hard to keep. Dad had to get rid of Hester and Mrs. Phelps, the two milk cows, because no one knew how to milk anymore. But the Valencias kept growing and Ojai became known for high quality fruit, and Dad's was the best. It was packed and shipped by the “Ojai Orange Association” a cooperative packing house affiliated with Sunkist.
I grew up and went to college, majoring in “Fruit Industries”. After a stint in the USAF, I and my bride returned to the ranch in 1967 and started to work with my Dad. I am not saying it was easy, but it was rewarding and the ranch prospered. We planted 10 more acres of Valencias Our Valencias were still sought after fruit and commanded a premium in the marketplace.
Dad died in 1980. We expanded the property by 20 acres in 1983 and acquired Thacher Creek Ranch in 1987, which had lemons on it, so we were starting to diversify (a little). In 1992, we partnered with Tony and Anne Thacher (see Friend's Ranches) and purchased McNell Creek Ranch, which was 2/3 Valencias and 1/3 navels.
History was repeating itself, our son Rob, graduated from USC and came back to the ranch to work with us. In 1998 he bought Dron Creek Ranch which had grapefruit, avocadoes and Valencias, and last year he partnered with us to pick up yet another property, San Antonio Creek Ranch which has Valencias and lemons.
But, through the years, the acceptance of Valencias in the marketplace has declined and both navels and grapefruit have not been financially viable, so most of the navels and all of the grapefruit, and 20% of the Valencias have been converted to Pixies, nature's candy, or late navel varieties and the avocado acreage has also been expanded.
Today we are farming over 200 acres of citrus and over 20 acres of that is pixies, but they are all young and we do not expect full production for another 10 years.
Member of the Ojai Pixie Tangerine Growers Association. Find out more at www.ojaipixies.com