Maywood Organic Fig Farm Tour
My family and I were fortunate to visit Bob Steinacher from Maywood Farm for a personal tour of his 172 acre organic fig farm in Corning, California, located just 2 miles off of Highway 101. I parked in front of the packing shed next to a vehicle with the license plate “Fig Farm” and knew I was in the right place.
Bob was busy at work in the packing shed along with his wife and son when we walked in. You could feel the energy of the packing shed as the workers sorted the figs in the bins coming in off the field into ripe and extra ripe boxes. The extra ripe fig boxes are marked with an X for a select few customers. Once the figs are stacked onto pallets they are brought into the coolers. The field heat must be taken out of the fruit to maintain the quality of the figs while they are being shipped to wholesalers all over the country.
Bob took us into the cooler where a large suction fan can cool down up to 8 pallets or 15,000 pounds of fruit from 90 to 36 degrees in 4.5 hours. Peak production is over and the coolers have only a few pallets. It is starting to cool down during the day and night and with shorter days it doesn’t heat up as much.
Bob asks if we are ready to tour the orchards and with a resounding YES we all climb into his ATV. Bob grows organic black mission, brown turkey, kadota, excel and adriatic figs with the majority of his acreage dedicated to black mission. Our first stop was a section of the black mission fig trees where Bob points out where the new growth was growing off the old branches. Some of his black mission trees are 32 years old and grow the biggest out of all the varieties. They cut them down to 6ft every year so they can pick them from the ground. The figs start ripening at the base of the limbs on the new growth and continually ripen up the branch. The trees can get so thick that you can’t get into the center of the tree to pick and the fruit doesn’t color up properly if it is too shaded. Most of the wood is pruned back by hand and Bob has 10 workers that prune all the fig trees for about 2 months each year.
Everywhere we look, black mission figs are scattered on the ground under the trees. Bob tells us “It so hard to see fruit go to waste. We work so hard to grow it but we can’t pick it fast enough. It came on too hot and for too long with many 100 degree days. We got as many workers as we could at the time, but we peak out at around 100 workers and then the quality of the workers is not as good.” Bob finds us a few dried figs on the ground and we munch on these heavenly treats as we climb back in the ATV and we are off to visit sections of Kadotas, Excels and Adriatic figs.
The white varieties are easily susceptible to sunburn and we can see many figs that have started to turn brown from the heat. The adriatic is my personal favorite with his bright red flesh that is soft and sweet like raspberry jam. Lucky me- Bob tells me has a clamshell of adriatic and black mission figs to take on our road trip up to Oregon. I can’t wait. It is after 1pm and the workers are picking black mission figs so we head over to visit them.
The workers start picking at 6:30am and finish at 5pm, working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. On the 7th day, Sunday, they work 8 hours. The temperatures are in the 90’s but the workers are covered head to toe, protecting themselves from the sun, the irritating hairs on the fig leaves and the milky latex sap that comes from both the branch and the fig as it is broken off. The latex causes burning so they wear gloves and tape their fingers to protect themselves. A tractor places yellow boxes throughout the orchard for workers to dump their buckets into. The boxes are then stacked and the tractors will come back through, picking up the full buckets and empty buckets to continue scattering them forward. One man is charged with coming through the orchard with water for the workers since they move so much they can’t have stationary water stations. When it is time for lunch the workers take their break in the shade under the trees and their lunch is brought out to them on a truck.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jose Torres, Employee Safety Officer for Maywood. Jose is in charge of taking care of all the workers in the orchard. If they hurt themselves or don’t feel good, they come to him. Jose was full of smiles and very proud of his job. You could tell he really cares about making sure all of the workers are taken care of. A few of the workers posed for a photo and continued picking. Figs ripen on the tree and it is a special skill to know when a fig is ready to be picked. Most of Bob’s workers continue to come back and work for him year after year.
Our final stop was a part of the orchard reserved for fig experimentation. Bob was really excited about the flavor of the Trojano Fig. “This is a really really good white fig I am propagating to plant out. It is a Spanish variety and it is not tart sweet”. He offered us a ripe fig off the vine and it was almost better than an adriatic. I hope Bob starts growing and selling the Trojano soon. It was a fig to swoon over. Bob was an amazing host with lots of energy and excitement about his fig orchard. Hot and sweaty, my family and I said a big thank you and goodbye. We munched on those figs the rest of our trip and remembered how fantastic our tour was.
The good news is that even with the recent cooler weather, this year will be better than last year. 2015 ended extremely early with no fruit in September and October. This year there is still lots of green fruit on the tree and Bob expects slower production through September and into a good part of October.