River Pear Orchards
Nestled along the banks of Sacramento River Delta sits a 45 acre slice of heaven for Doug and Jane Dickson. Their pear orchard is the fruition of the couple’s long-time-dream that they finally made a reality in 2012 when they bought the orchard.
The Dicksons have a deep respect for the land, orchard and history of this place. “We’re just caretakers here”, says Doug.
The history of this orchard far predates the Dicksons. The ground where their ranch sits has been a working pear orchard since the 1880s. Long before roads wove through the Delta, the river was the primary mode of transport. Pears were picked by hand and taken to the small packing shed that still sits on the property. Each day during harvest season, after being packed in wooden boxes, pears were taken to the docks, picked up by ships and floated down the Sacramento River into San Francisco.
Bartlett and Bosc pears are still grown on the property. The orchard has a long history of being high producing because it was always cared for very well. It continues to be a labor of love for the Dicksons.
However, Doug and Jane credit much of the orchard’s success to their foreman Carlos Cortez. Cortez has worked on the pear orchard for 25 years, even before the Dicksons arrived. Due to the relatively small size of the orchard, he is able to pay close attention to each of the roughly 13,000 trees.
Although Doug and Jane are relatively new to pear farming when compared to other families in the area, they are by no means new to agriculture. In fact, Doug’s first job was on a 150-acre pear farm. There he spent three years learning the tricks of the trade before starting a 40-year career in the grain business.
What does set the Dicksons apart from many of the pear farming families in the Delta is that this is a dream of theirs, rather than a legacy.
“We weren’t born into a family where we had this to take over. For us it was a dream,” says Jane. “But someone has to be the first generation. Someone has to take the big risk.”
In their orchard, the Dicksons combine the methodologies of organic and conventional agriculture to grow the best possible pears.
“It’s a good time in agriculture because you are sustainable whether you want to be or not. Just by growing food in California, farmers are automatically following the most sustainable practices in the world because of the regulations that are in place here,” says Doug.
Everything that goes into growing pears in California is tested – the water, soil, fertilizer and pesticides. This ensures safety and quality for consumers and is the reason California is the leader in sustainable agriculture.
When it comes to spraying, the Dicksons only use what they need in their orchard to protect the health of the trees. The longevity of the trees play a major role in sustainability so keeping the trees as healthy as possible is critical. And while pears are susceptible to many diseases, some of the trees on their orchard are 130 years old, a true testament to the long-term commitment to sustainability their orchard has seen and a feat that would have been impossible without conventional methods of farming.
“A 100 year old tree can produce as well as a 30 year old tree if cared for properly”, says Jane.
They also use organic practices like mowing and are a no-till farm, meaning the prunings are shredded in the orchard and the organic matter goes back into the soil and creates its own mulch. This keeps the moisture in the soil from evaporating and also helps with weed control.
In addition to selling their pears through commercial marketing channels, Doug and Jane also invite people to come out and pick their own pears during harvest. In fact, some of the people that have visited their orchard have come from as far as Europe, the midwest and the east coast.
They also offer ranch tours to interested groups in an effort to educate people where their food comes from. So far, they’ve hosted multiple Church Youth groups and the Sacramento Leadership Council. The Sacramento Children’s home is also planning a visit this upcoming season.
“We want to engage the public,” says Doug. “So many people in Sacramento don’t even know pears are grown out here and it’s only 30 minutes away.”
Learn more about River Pear Orchards here.