Rider and Sons Apple Orchardists
Susan Simitz, Marketing Manager at Earl’s and Christie Biddle, Fruit Buyer at Earl’s, recently had the opportunity to visit Rider and Sons, 5th generation apple orchardists in Watsonville, CA. Jim Rider is in charge of the fields and his brother Dick Rider oversees the packing shed. Their grandfather Homer was one of the pioneer fruit growers in the Watsonville area along the Central Coast in California.
Rider and Sons is located along a quaint road lined with apple orchards far removed from the hustle and bustle of Highway 1, about 1 ½ hours south of San Francisco. Rider converted to organic in 1989 and currently has 75 acres of organic apple trees. Rider even published a book on how to grow organically through CCOF, a third party certifier.
Watsonville has its own microclimate with cooler summer weather similar to San Francisco. Daytime temperatures are typically in the 60’s-70’s with occasionally days up in the 80’s. Growers have a fear of week long hot weather because it means a softer apple with a shorter shelf life. The cooler weather allows Rider to pick their apples at optimum maturity, which results in a more flavorful apple. Rider’s goal is to give the customer the best flavor experience and be done packing before the Pacific Northwest is in full swing in October.
Rider’s number one priority is quality and workers are trained to pick slowly with an eye for detail. Jim Rider says the apples are ready to be harvested when “they have a hint of yellow in the background color.” Once the apples are picked they are washed, dried and sorted by size. Rider even has an optical sorter machine that takes pictures from all angles in a matter of seconds to decide the apple size. After the sorter identifies the size, apples of uniform size are directed into different bins where they are packed in boxes. At Earl’s we sell apples in cases from a 72 count up to a 125 count with 125 being the perfect snack size apple.
Rider and Sons grow many varieties including McIntosh, Braeburns, Honeycrisp, Pink Lady®, Fuji and Jonagold. The cooler weather brings out the vibrant color in apples giving Fujis a deeper red color, Pink Ladies will develop a more vibrant pink and Braeburns will have a deeper orange color.
We can look forward to Braeburn apples soon followed shortly by Fuji’s and Pink Lady in the middle of October. Do you love to cook? Jim Rider recommends Jonagold apples for the best apple pie! Post your favorite apple recipes on Earl’s Facebook page.