Perhaps you’ve passed up those odd-looking fuzzy brown fruits at the market. Kiwifruit, or just kiwi, don’t do as much to advertise their sweetness as, say, a rosy peach.
I’ll admit I’ve never been a big fan of kiwis. But I was won over the other day when Mike Ariza handed me a taste at the Certified Farmers Market at Laguna Gateway Center in Elk Grove, south of Sacramento.
Picked ripe from the vine, the kiwi’s soft, colorful flesh is remarkably sweet and satisfying. They’re packed with vitamins and antioxidants — so much so that they’re called a “super fruit.” And the “eye” shape that appears when you slice through the fruit through the middle is a decorative addition to salads and tarts.
I figure any place that produces such remarkable fruit is worth further investigation, so I visited Mike and Debbie Ariza’s farm in Orland, California, to see where the kiwi magic happens.
A visit to Ariza Farms
I found Debbie and Mike between markets on a recent Monday, and they agreed to show me their farm. Actually, they have almost 11 acres under cultivation, and only about half of that is kiwifruit vines.
Debbie says she grew all the kiwi plant from seed and began planting five acres of vines in 1980 after clearing the Orland farm of almond trees. Her first job during college at Calchico Kiwi taught her about the nutritious fruit.
“Back then kiwi was the thing to grow, the big money-maker,” Debbie says. “There weren’t very many [growers], but they’re so nutritious and we got good money for them, so people started planting them.”
On my visit in early November the kiwis have all been harvested and placed in cold storage to supply farmers markets and schools until spring. In the meantime, the Arizas are kept busy with several varieties of mandarin oranges, persimmons, pineapple (feijoa) guavas, tangelos, kumquats, grapefruit, oranges, lemons, pomegranates, and summer fruits like peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, cherries, cantaloupe, cucumbers.
Oh, and winter squash. “I guess I left that out,” Debbie says.
After all that, the family’s personal garden near the house with tomatoes, peppers and eggplant hardly seems to count. “We have plenty to eat,” Debbie says.
The variety produced by the farm is intentional, adds Mike, pointing to peach trees that produce Springcrest, Redhaven, O’Henry and Summerset peaches. “The idea is they keep coming in so you keep bringing peaches to the market,” says Mike, who signed on to the farming life after marrying Debbie 10 years ago. After a career in heavy industry (nuclear power and oil), he now responds with the local volunteer fire department when he’s not away at market.
We pass an orchard of pineapple guava trees, so heavy with fruit that the trees have dropped a blanket of immature fruit to thin themselves out. “This is the second year I’ve had this many,” says Debbie, explaining that the trees will drop fruit for about seven weeks. “You don’t pick it. You gather the fruit that’s fallen.”
The ripe guavas are prized for making jam, or just eaten fresh over cereal or ice cream, she adds.
Their philosophy on sprays
The Ariza’s mature kiwi orchards are kept pest-free with very little intervention.
Last year they used an organic insecticide called omni oil for scale, but this year, Debbie says, “because the incidence of scale was so low with the last crop, that we didn’t even use that. There’s no growth hormone.”
“The thing is,“ Debbie says, “it’s common to use pesticides, whether you use an organic or inorganic pesticide and growth hormone on kiwi.”
“This year we didn’t use anything,” adds Mike. “There are no sprays of any kind on the kiwi, not even organic.”
That may change in any given year depending on conditions, and they may use a little omni oil this winter while the vines are dormant to smother the insects so they can’t live, Debbie explains.
The farm’s on-site cold storage box is filled with boxes of kiwi, destined for farmers markets.
They could sell every kiwi they have right now, Debbie says, but fortunately for shoppers they’ll dole them out slowly at the Chico Certified Farmers Market, as well as markets in Paradise, Davis, Elk Grove and Sacramento. The farm also sells directly to school districts and the Chico Natural Foods Cooperative.
Children often recognize kiwifruit at farmers markets after tasting it at school, Debbie says, and it’s fun watching them introduce their parents to the unusual-looking fruit. “Now kiwi is really part of the school system.”
More often now, people bring their children to the farmers market and have them pay for the fruit. “It’s a good way for them to be part of it,” Debbie says. “And they eat the fruit.”
Picking the fruit when the sugars are at the right level is the reason their kiwis are so tasty, Mike says.
“They’re a superfruit,” adds Debbie. “You know that, right?”