Just Peachy at Loomis Orchard

From Granite Bay View, Thursday August 1, 2013

Nitta Ranch coaxes nature’s bounty in sustainable way

By: Eileen Wilson, Granite Bay View Correspondent

If you’ve ever tasted a perfectly ripe, organically grown peach just off the tree, then you know how delightful that first bite — not too crisp, not too soft — can be.

And if you had the good fortune to sink your teeth into locally grown fruit this summer, then you know that a cool growing season capped by an unusually hot week created a quickly ripened, lush golden globe that is melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

I’m talking about a peach that is so yummy supermarket fruit will taste like cardboard in comparison. That’s because the peaches you see at the supermarket are picked and packed well before ripeness, then shipped across the state.

Once you try a Nitta Ranch peach, you’ll never go back.

Harvest season at Nitta Ranch in Loomis is all too short — typically 10 days. Each fruit is carefully handpicked at its peak and sold on the same day. Coaxing the best of nature’s bounty in healthy, sustainable ways has been a priority for the Nitta family for nearly a century.

Choichi (Charles) Nitta emigrated from Japan to the United States as a teen in the early 1900s. He moved to Loomis and worked nearby fruit orchards while dreaming of starting his own farm. He bought the ranch through an intermediary — Japanese Americans were not allowed to buy property at the time — and planted peaches, pears and plums. The family farmed the ranch until Word War II, when Japanese families were sent to internment camps. The home still stood after the war, but the crops had been neglected, and the equipment had been stolen.

Fast forward five decades: Mark and Jennie Nitta, along with their adult son, Ian, moved back home to tend the farm Mark grew up on.

“There’s no evidence that there has ever been a honey shortage on this farm,” joked Jennie Nitta, pointing to the large swaths of bee-covered clover that circle the orchards.

Duke, a 10-year-old black Lab, lazes in the shade, eagerly hopping up to meet each new guest as cars pull up.

“He’s just in Lab heaven here,” Jennie Nitta said of the elderly pet that was rescued from a shelter.

It’s obvious that carful stewardship of the land is important to everyone in the family.

“This land is in our hands for only a short time,” Jennie Nitta said. “We must care for it and cherish it so we can pass this wonderful gift on to the next generation.”

Jan White, a fellow peach lover, appreciates purchasing fruit in the rural atmosphere.

“The fruit is organic, fresh and the family is so friendly,” White said. “It’s just such a pleasure to come out here and look at the sunflowers and these orchards. It’s a family business that we respect so much.”

This year is Jennie and Mark Nitta’s third peach harvest and they admit there is still a lot to learn about sustainable farming.

The farm produces between 300 and 400 boxes of sweet fruit each season, and Jennie Nitta said that sustainable practices, such as growing clover to crowd weeds out and using organic fertilizer, are not only better for the environment, but they make economic sense, too. The family uses crop rotation and low-till methods to ensure long-term tree health, while inviting beneficial insects and animals to keep pest populations down.

Mark Nitta said farming has been fun, but also has its challenges.

“Farmers are always having to try new things,” he said. “Organic farms follow certain rules and some of the large farms still use allowable chemicals. We don’t use any pesticides on our trees.”

Today’s shopper cares about their food.

“People want to talk to us,” Jennie Nitta said. “They want to talk about how we grow the food, about all the nutrients. We keep our standards high, and when people taste our fruit they definitely come back.”

Her husband agrees: “Ask yourself, ‘What is local? Is it from Southern California?’ Make a trip to a family farm.”

Pear season is mid-August through October.

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