Reviving a Legacy

New owners have Orangevale commercial fruit operation up and running again

Back Article Jul 11, 2019 By Sena Christian

Brad Squires and Matt Brunner wondered what would happen to the agricultural land that housed Tom Tomich Orchards — the sole remaining commercial fruit operation in Orangevale — when the business shuttered in 2017. Would that really be the end of an era?

Then when the owner Tom Tomich died in July 2018 at age 93, the family put the land up for sale, and what had been a casual conversation between Orangevale residents Squires and Brunner quickly turned into a formal bid on the property. In September 2018, Squires and Brunner beat out three other offers to buy the 10-acre fruit orchard. The new owners named the land Prosper Orchard to honor the legacy of Tom’s parents, Prosper and Eleanor Tomich, who planted their first trees there in 1911. They named their business Orangevale Fruit Co.

Since taking over, Squires and Brunner have been focused on heavy pruning, leveling the ground, and hanging lines and sprinklers for a major drip-irrigation project. “Ninety-five percent of the elephant has been eaten,” Brunner says of getting the orchard healthy again. “It’s a big task.” They also double planted (adding a tree between other trees in a row), ripping out 100 trees and planting 1,000 more for about 2,000 total. The orchard produces more than 40 varieties of stone fruit — mostly peaches, plums and nectarines, along with apricots, persimmons, figs, apples and pomegranates. Harvest began in June and runs until October. 

“It’s a huge thing to do this, but it’s going really well, and the community has just been 110 percent behind us,” Squires says. “No one says this is a bad idea. We’ll see how it goes as we start selling the fruit and make sure it all works out. Double planting is part of our strategy to be profitable, just increasing our yield.”

The new owners are incorporating different techniques than were used in the past. Instead of disc cultivation, for instance, which turns the soil to control weeds — but doesn’t leave organic matter in the soil — they plan to mow the weeds, which involves “a little more effort,” Squires says. “However, in the long run it’s best for soil health and moisture retention.” They’re committed to using sustainable farming practices that sequester carbon, maintain soil health, reduce erosion and introduce nutrients via cover cropping. “It’s been fun to see the big turnaround and rewarding to take this orchard from what it was to what it’s about to become,” Brunner says.

The owners are still figuring out where they’ll sell the produce in addition to the Orangevale Farmers’ Market. They plan to open a farmstand and are working with a couple local grocery stores to carry their product. They plan to host farm-to-fork dinners at the orchard and U-pick events where people glean their own fruit. They eventually want to create a branch-to-box subscription service. Orangevale Fruit Co. is donating 10 percent of proceeds to the Community Foundation of Orangevale and Fair Oaks, where Squires is chairman of the board. He is also president of the Orangevale Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, Squires and his wife, Megan, own the 12-acre Heirloom Acres Farm about a mile from the orchard and live with their children in a 1940s house on the property. Brunner and his wife, Marga den Hoed, own the 2.6-acre Common Kettle Farm, also nearby, and live in a home built in 1918.

For Brunner and Squires, keeping  the historic orchard alive is about more than one plot of land. It’s about preserving the community’s agricultural history and continuing to be a source of pride for residents. “This is tied into our rural roots, and it’s something special for Orangevale,” Squires says. “Our vision would be that it inspires other people to take on projects like this in Orangevale that are ag related. Hopefully, that becomes more a part of who we are again.”

Comments

David Weldy (not verified)July 12, 2019 - 6:43am

Feels very cool to support local business. Proud of you both (and your families) for what you are doing.
Thanks

Visitor Karen Hallam (not verified)July 19, 2019 - 7:29pm

Would like to know when you are planning to have a fork to farm dinner and how much that would cost. Our garden club is very interested in attending.

Kris L. (not verified)July 25, 2019 - 5:06pm

Hello, I’m thrilled you are bringing the Orchards to life. I do have a concern I wanted to ask about. If pesticides are used what effect might this potentially have for surrounding residents? My son attends school nearby and I hope one day his class can take a field trip there but am wondering about air quality in general around the orchards especially on breezy days. Thanks.

Stephanie Bohn (not verified)July 27, 2019 - 7:47am

I read your story and I am so happy this land did not go to developers. Love to come by and see your progress. I have lived in Orangevale for 30 years. Maybe see you soon.

Lynn Lawson (not verified)July 27, 2019 - 10:24am

We have lived in Orangevale for almost 40 years and always loved going to the local orchards to get fruit and watching Mr. Tomich drive down the street on his tractor. Glad to see someone wants to preserve part of the Orangevale History. Happy someone else feels that way. Thanks guys. I look forward to enjoying the fruits of your labor and seeing what else you will add to community!

Debbie mcgee (not verified)July 30, 2019 - 3:18pm

We live just a couple properties down from the orchard and we are so excited that this orchard is staying an orchard. Thank you so much for keeping our neighborhood like it should be

Deborah Dahl (not verified)August 3, 2019 - 10:38pm

Mr Tomich was an amazing person and he and his family did so much for the community. I hope you can bring the orchard back to life. Best wishes to you and i hope the orchard heals and comes back strong. Mr Tomich will be watching over you. Please put me on your mail list serve. Thank You

Deborah Dahl (not verified)August 3, 2019 - 10:53pm

I wish that someone like you folks would have bought the land on Beech Ave. They are trying to get a development approved instead of keeping the lands rural feeling.

Liz Grove (not verified)August 4, 2019 - 7:57am

Having grown up in Watsonville, surrounded by orchards, I’m excited to see this way of life continue. Wishing you all the best!!

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