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Earl’s Visits Capay Satsuma

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With the 5 of us in Earl’s car, we embarked on the 156 mile journey north to Orland, CA. After getting off of I-5 and turning onto “Country Road 9” Earl commented, “That’s when you know you’re in farm country. When you get on Country Road 9!” The grid of long straight rural roads eventually led us to 7346 Cutting Avenue and the home of Capay Satsuma.

We pulled up and parked outside of the packing shed, and shortly thereafter Dawit walked up to welcome us. Dawit Zeleke and his wife, Cori Ong, have owned the 12 acre orchard for 17 years. The folks they bought it from did not farm it organically, but after 1 year on the land, they decided to go through the 3 year transition to becoming certified organic with CCOF.

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The oldest trees on the property are 54 year old, the youngest just are just a few years. In total there are about 1,000 trees on the property. Around the base of many trees, especially the younger ones, is black material to prevent weeds from growing and competing with the trees for nutrients. On some of the older trees, Dawit showed us that the fruit on the exterior was relatively soft, whereas the fruit on the inside of the tree was mature, firm, strong quality. Knowing what fruit will work for each facet of their customer base is important. Earl’s is their only wholesaler. They also sell to a handful of local stores, and the Davis and Marin County farmers markets. Cori runs a small mail order business in which small gift boxes are packed with care, filled with raffia, hand written notes, and beautiful fruit. These gift boxes are sent all over the country.

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About 10-20%% of the fruit is of the color, and firmness that they would pack it for us at Earls. In a good year (as this year has been) 90% of their fruit is sellable. In years with more rain and unfavorable weather conditions, that can swing closer to 50%.

Although inland, they do experience foggy damp mornings often in the orchard. In order to dry the fruit off so they can start picking workers use leaf blowers to dry the first few trees when necessary. By mid-day things have typically dried off enough that this does not need to be done. Fruit is packed into quaint wood crates and then brought into the packing shed. Each piece of fruit goes down a “buffer” to brush off and buff the fruit. It then runs down a sorter which sizes the fruit and gets it to the packers who do the pack it into 25# boxes, or 5# bags.

As we wrapped up at the orchard and packing shed and headed out to lunch at the local Mexican restaurant, we quickly learned that Dawit knew most people in the small town. He was greeted by neighbors and local beekeepers with big smiles and respectful handshakes. He had a good joke for each acquaintance with whom we crossed paths. His sense of humor had us chuckling throughout the day as well.

Dawit and his wife are appreciative of their relationship with Earls, and we certainly all left with a great appreciation for them as people and growers. Great people with great fruit, that we can buy, receive, sell and ship with pride. Thanks to each person here at Earls for doing their part to support this relationship!

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Carson Evers, Earl Herrick, Dawit the grower, Christe Biddle and Nick Arabian

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