Farm Focus: Jim of Churchill -Brenneis Orchard
We are excited to welcome back avocados from Churchill-Brenneis Orchard into our CSA boxes this week!
Jim of Churchill-Brenneis Orchard, never imagined himself becoming a farmer, though he grew up walking through friends orchards on weekend trips from LA. His parents encouraged Jim to get an education, so he did. He earned his master’s degree in American Government to find himself unemployed living in Sacramento in the late 1970’s engrossed in folk music and pursuing romantic interests of the moment.
During this time Jim’s father had come into an inheritance and decided to purchase land in Ojai, on which he planted 37 acres of Bacon avocados. Jim’s mother encouraged Jim to come home to run the ranch. Though he had no experience in agriculture he decided to take on the challenge.
Jim’s first harvest of Bacon avocados was in 1978 and he got 60 cents a pound for them. In 1979, the avocado industry decided to support nothing but Hass avocados and he got 14 cents per pound for the Bacons. Things weren’t looking promising for the avocado ranch. Ojai is too rocky to grow much aside from citrus, but he didn’t want to be a Sunkist orange grower like most of the neighboring farms, so Jim started thinking about tangerines.
One day when hanging out with a childhood friend who’d also come back to Ojai to help his family’s farm, he picked up a tangerine in their packing house and ate it. At that point, he knew exactly what he wanted to grow and asked his friend about the fruit. They only had two trees of this particular variety and their family didn’t sell them but saved them for personal consumption. It was a Pixie tangerine, which at that time was not in commercial production. Jim planted 80 trees that very year. By 1985 the tangerines started coming in and Jim had grafted about half of the avocados over to Hass. When the Pixies came in he tried to sell them to grocery stores and produce managers to no avail. Because Pixies are a late season variety, in their minds, there was no place for Pixies since the citrus season was over.
His wife, Lisa Brenneis who is the creative energy and organizational force of the farm, had a restaurateur friend down to the orchard visiting from Berkeley. After their friend tasted the Pixies he declared that Bill Fujimoto of Monterey Market in Berkeley needed to taste them. That was pretty much the start of when the Pixie became a coveted fruit. Bill Fujimoto fostered and developed many young farmers growing unique varieties. Bay Area chefs used to congregate in the back of the Monterey Market to try new produce. Lindsey Shere, founding pastry chef at Chez Panisse, tried one of Jim’s Pixies and then featured them at the restaurant. From that point on Jim was standing on solid ground and building his business. Today Jim, aka the “Tangerine Man”, and Lisa grow several varieties of citrus and three varieties of avocados. We think you are going to love your avocados this week and we are looking forward to including some of their Pixies in your boxes this spring!