AgFocus: Amber Oaks Raspberries
Something’s always in season at Amber Oaks Raspberries, which produces much more than the sweet red berries, although they certainly have plenty of those.
Timothy and Rhonda Boughton are the farmers behind Amber Oaks, in business at three Auburn locations since 1988. But the career started much earlier than that for Timothy Boughton, who started farming when he was 12 years old. After watching cherry crops get destroyed in just a couple of years, he saw the benefit of growing berries, which have an innate desire to grow and spread. After high school, he began leasing land on Shanley Road from his mentor, Keith Anderson.
He started transplanting berries into rows, planting nearly 15 acres of his “Boughton berries,” a raspberry hybrid Boughton discovered. He also planted raspberries, growing from 12 rows to an acre, then five, and it just kept growing. It wasn’t always easy, but Boughton was able to take what could be a devastating turn of events and use it as a learning experience.
For more photos from Amber Oaks Raspberries click here.
Diversity is key
“We started having a disease problem with some of the plants, and we lost a lot,” he remembered. “One year, I worked a whole year for $1,600. We used up most of our savings to survive that year, because we had so many problems, and that’s when we decided to become diversified.”
Much like a stockbroker will tell clients to not invest all their money in one place, many farmers grow varieties of produce to ensure that if one crop suffers, more will be around to keep the farm running. In the case of Amber Oaks, diversity also means that fresh food is growing all year round.
“We have over 100 varieties of stuff now, because we always have a problem with something, but there’s enough other stuff to keep it going,” Boughton explained.
That variety includes 14 types of raspberries, along with blackberries, chesterberries, Boughton berries, strawberries, blueberries, boysenberries, olallieberries and a sweet raspberry Boughton discovered that ripened like a blackberry and couldn’t be found in any of his berry books. Named after his wife of 30 years, it’s lovingly called a “Rhonda berry.”
To see a photo gallery from Amber Oaks, click here.
But it’s not just berries at Amber Oaks. They also grow several varieties of tomatoes, herbs, Swiss chard, peppers, squash, rhubarb, corn, lemons, figs, oranges and pomegranates.
Boughton chooses to not use harsh pesticides on his crops, instead weed eating and hand-hoeing to keep weeds at bay and fighting pests with organic remedies like vinegar.
“There’s a combination of things,” he said, when asked what makes his berries taste so good. “There are varieties that we’ve tried throughout our life that are really good in the first place. We grow them naturally and we pick them as ripe as possible, so it’s really hard to beat what we have.”
Pick your own
Another way the Boughtons found to diversify their business is you-pick. In addition to selling at farmers markets, they open their locations to families wanting to spend a day picking berries and vegetables.
“It’s like anything else,” Boughton said. “You have to promote it, you have to have a product that people want to come back for, you have to have an environment that people like.”
That environment includes a picnic area and pond, where families often spend afternoons enjoying picnic lunches complete with fresh berries.
“My friend told me about this place, so we thought we’d come up for the day,” said Samantha Monroe, of Roseville, who brought her sons to the Atwood Road site. “It’s absolutely awesome. Get them outside, away from the TV.”
Several Auburn-area farms offer you-pick, including Charleston Lavender Farm in Colfax and Blue Acres Blueberry Farm in Newcastle. Terrie Cook, owner of Berry Heaven USA in Garden Valley, said that because she grows late varieties of berries, vegetables and herbs, they’re available for you-pick through October. And while spending a day picking berries is a fun family activity, she said, you-pick also takes a burden off farmers.
“Picking blueberries is a lot of work,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, and most people don’t understand how much work it is. Because we are residential, we can’t hire employees.”
Up next at Amber Oaks is a big you-pick season that will run through September.
“We have lots of great blackberries,” Boughton said. “They’re easy to pick – there are no thorns. We mow the grass in between the rows. It’s great for kids and families, and they’re really good berries. That’s our biggest you-pick crop.”
A family business
The Boughtons’ children – Scott, Olivia and Theshia – have all been involved in the family farm. Boughton said his daughters now live in Colorado and Virginia, and often complain that they can’t find the same quality produce they grew up eating.
In addition to you-pick and selling to local restaurants, Amber Oaks sells at farmers markets in Tahoe, Reno, San Rafael, Truckee and San Ramon. Scott Boughton said that’s the part of the business he enjoys most.
“The best thing is going to the markets and giving people the produce, and having their reaction to how awesome it is,” he said. “That’s what I enjoy most.”
Rhonda Boughton said she enjoys the freedom of the job, even though it’s much more than a full-time career. But because in farming timing is everything, Timothy Boughton said, if they get what needs to be done completed on time, there’s no trouble in sneaking away for a few days of relaxation fishing or spending time with family.
But it’s always nice to be home, Rhonda Boughton added.
“Having the produce, I think we’re just so used to it,” she said. “So when I go visit my other family, it’s not around and I miss that.”
You-pick berry farms
Amber Oaks Raspberries
Where: 2770 Shanley Road, Auburn, with additional sites on Mt. Vernon and Atwood roads
Hours: You-pick Monday, Wednesday and Saturday by appointment
Phone: (530) 885-3420
Berry Heaven USA
What: Boysenberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, garden vegetables
Where: 5170 Marshall Road, Garden Valley
Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 1-6 p.m. Sunday
Phone: (530) 333-9037; (916) 919-2020
Blue Acres Blueberry Farm
Where: 4675 Fruitvale Road, Newcastle
Hours: 2-6 p.m. Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday through mid-July
Phone: (916) 543-0996