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AgFocus: Twin Peaks Orchards celebrates a century

Family keeps diverse fruit farm running strong
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal features editor
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It?s peach season in Placer County, and this year is a special one at Twin Peaks Orchards, celebrating 100 years of fruit and family.

In 1912, Japanese immigrants Yoshichika and Tomeo Nakae started their orchard, which grew mostly plums, with some Bartlett pears and quince.

Nakae?s son, Howard, took over Twin Peaks with his mother at a very young age. Yoshichika Nakae served as a liaison among the Japanese immigrants, who were not welcomed in the area by many. After a meeting, his daughter Carol Iwasaki said, he was shot and killed. His killer was never caught.

?He was killed when he was I believe 39 years old,? Iwasaki said. ?At that point my dad was 13, the oldest of five children, and he took over, along with his mother.?

The Japanese farmers? struggles have not been forgotten by the Twin Peaks family. When offered money by the government as a way to make up for the imprisonment of Howard and Spring Nakae, his first wife, in an internment camp, they opted to instead build a memorial to Yoshichika and Tomeo Nakae.

 

The family way

The people are as diverse as the fruit at Twin Peaks, which Sheila Enriquez lovingly describes as a ?compound.? Enriquez is the daughter of Howard and Barbara Nakae, and her husband, Raul, immigrated from Zacatecas, Mexico, more than 30 years ago. Their children are Camelia Miller, who handles promotions, farmers markets and sales; Alondra Enriquez, in charge of the packing shed; and Raul V. Enriquez, who?s learning the ropes of the business side by side with his dad. All live on the property.

Raul Enriquez said he came here with little farming experience, coming from a place where corn barely grew among all the rocks. Luckily, he had a good teacher.

?The first year I came over here, I told Sheila, ?I?m pretty sure your daddy at least 20 times a day thinks, ?Maybe I?ll kill this guy,??? he laughed. ??This guy?s no good ? he?s useless.? Because I was useless. I didn?t know anything about this.?

Today, Raul Enriquez is hard to pin down, buzzing about the orchards on his quad or running to town for supplies, a busy-bee work ethic he learned from Howard Nakae. Raul Enriquez remembers times when his father-in-law told him it was time for lunch and, by the time he was done washing his hands, Howard Nakae would on his way back to the orchards to work.

 

Many changes seen

Placer County?s fruit scene has changed a lot since it was known as the ?fruit basket of the world.? According to the 1947 crop report, there were 1,283 acres of peaches, 5,116 acres of pears and 9,927 acres of plums.

?We were the No. 1 plum-producing county in the world at that time,? said county Agricultural Commission Joshua Huntsinger. ?It was pretty amazing. You?re talking 16,000 acres of orchards here in the foothills, just in Placer County.?

By 2010, those numbers had dropped to 79 acres of peaches, 26 acres of pears and 97 acres of plums. What happened?

Despite Placer?s good soil, great climate and irrigation system, the county lost its competitive edge with the advent of modern refrigeration and the interstate highway system. And when counties like Fresno and Tulare got irrigation water, it was more economical to plant in their flat soil than in the rocky hills.

Other factors were the absence of many Japanese farmers sent to internment camps. Those without loyal neighbors to care for their crops often lost everything. In the 1960s, a disease called ?fire blight? wiped out pear crops across the county, and many farmers never recovered.

But it?s getting better. Huntsinger said he sees growing interest in winegrapes and mandarins here, and also people interested in growing vegetables and planting orchards.

?We still have the water and the soil and the climate,? he said. ?Those things haven?t changed.?

And family businesses like Twin Peaks are setting a good example. Instead of having one type of crop shipped out of the area, many farms are offering a wide variety of food sold right here in Placer County. And the trend is catching on as families continue to put down roots and teach their children the way of life.

?It?s a really exciting thing when you see generation of generation really feeling that tie to the land and not wanting to leave,? Huntsinger said. ?Farming is so much more than just an occupation or a way to make a living. It?s really a lifestyle, and it?s one of those things that once it gets in your blood, you can?t get it out.?

 

The spice of life

So what keeps a family of fruit farmers in business for 100 years? The answer, according to the Twin Peaks Family, is variety.

?We grow peaches, plums, nectarines, a few apples, pluots, jujubes,? Sheila Enriquez said as she walked through the on-site fruit shed, showing how the fruit is hand-picked and hand-sorted.

?Basically all the stone fruit,? Iwasaki added. ?We go into the citruses in the winter, and in between our biggest single crop is persimmon.?

They also grow Satsuma mandarins, lemons, apricots, Asian pears, cherries, grapefruit, kumquats, pomellos, blood oranges and olives. Miller?s pet project has been Orchard Delights at Twin Peaks, a 1,000-tree organic orchard. And fruit doesn?t go to waste ? Iwasaki has a commercial kitchen where she creates traditional and creative blends of jams and jellies for sale locally and online.

Having diverse crops, Miller said, protects farmers from devastating weather or plant diseases that could wipe out a family?s livelihood in an instant.

?We?ve had damage to crops before, but because we don?t just grow 100 acres of one variety, we minimize our loss,? she said.

About 5,000 peach trees grow on Twin Peaks? acreage, producing more than 40 varieties. Twin Peaks products can be found at about 20 weekly farmers markets in Placer County, Sacramento and Sonoma, and at local Whole Foods stores.

?We?re growing fruit that you pick it one day, you pack it and you are eating it the next day,? Miller said.

A family-run orchard can?t stay in business for 100 years without a lot of love behind the labor. Miller said she has no desire to end the long tradition of hard work that has passed down through the generations. She and her husband, Justin, are now teaching their four children the Twin Peaks way of life, where no matter your ?official? role, everybody has the same goals.

?We all have to be a jack-of-all-trades around here,? Iwasaki said. ?Whatever needs to be done, you have to jump in and do it.?

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at krissik@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter, @AuburnJournalAE.

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Twin Peaks Orchards

Where: 6105 Highway 193, Newcastle

Contact: (916) 663-3270

Online: www.twinpeaksorchards.com

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Open house and fruit tasting

What: Tours, fruit sampling, you-pick sales, cooking demo, book signing, live music, face painting, farm animals, raffles, peach pie and recipe contest

When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 15

Where: Twin Peaks Orchards, 6105 Highway 193, Newcastle

Info: www.twinpeaksorchards.com

 

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Pick the perfect peach

Twin Peaks Orchards? Camelia Miller offers the following tips to make sure you?re buying peaches at their peak of flavor

? Make sure you?re buying from a local farmer. Fruit from other states or countries has most often been traveling a while.

? Look for even color, all the way to the stem, with not a lot of green.

? Push up a bit on the ?shoulder? of the fruit ? it should give a little.

? Small size doesn?t mean small favor. In fact, peaches that are very large and mushy were probably grown in soil that retains a lot of water (whichPlacer County?s does not), and are full of water. Smaller fruits have a higher concentration of flavor.

? Run your fingers over the peach, then touch them together. If they feel tacky, it?s time to buy. That sensation is caused by the sugar just starting to break the skin of the peach.