U-Pick or We-Pick at Rancho Notso Grande in HanfordJun 24, 2015 10:05PM ● By Brandi Barnett
So Berry GoodJuly 2015
By Jordan Venema
Photos: Josiah Alter
John Olivas admits he hears the story often, though it never gets old. He also says everyone has a similar version, which usually goes something like this: “I remember when I was a kid, Grandma had berry bushes down by the river out by the fence line, and we used to go pick them and make a pie or cobbler.”
“Everybody to a T recounts that as the fondest memories of their lives,” says Olivas, “and they’re trying to recreate that for their kids.”
Since 2006, people have been coming to Olivas’ property to satisfy those berry and nostalgia cravings. And every year, from early May to late August, Olivas catches them red-handed, red-fingered even, picking the very best of his berries, his crop in its prime.
But Olivas doesn’t mind; he even encourages them. Don’t stop at the berries, he insists; you’ve got to try the peaches and nectarines, too. “That’s really an amazing experience, to get one nice and soft, eat it in the field while the juice runs down your arm,” he says.
That’s just how things are done at Rancho Notso Grande, a u-pick farm with 13 varieties of berries, where all are welcome to help themselves. And, no, Olivas’ farm isn’t along the river or adjacent to Grandma’s fence line, but his berry patch is an oasis in the midst of Hanford’s more conventional orchards and cornfields.
“I’m one of the only u-pick (farms) – well, I’m definitely the only one I know about in our county, maybe one of the only u-pick opportunities in the Central Valley,” Olivas says. And while Rancho Notso Grande is something of a niche among valley farms, it also attracts people from far outside the boundaries of the San Joaquin.
“I have people coming from all over the world,” says Olivas, who once hosted a busload of Tibetan monks. Whether they’re from another country, out of state or close to home, the diversity of his customers matches his berries, and suggests you can’t really put a price on creating memories – or a good cobbler.
The family who doesn’t mind sticky fingers can visit Rancho Notso Grande to find the ingredients to make both: memories and a good pie. Plus, it’s a great way to spend time as a family. Picking your own berries, says Olivas, “is one of the most wholesome family experiences you can have… It’s also a way to get connected to your food.”
For Olivas, Rancho Notso Grande is just as much about that experience as it is about the quality of the berries. And since the experience informs the flavor, Olivas makes sure his customers know just exactly what to look for, and how to pick the best.
“My favorite berry is one that’s picked properly,” explains Olivas, “and that’s part of the deal, too. When you come out, we give you a picking lesson so you can get the cream of the crop.”
“When we pick them for you, you pay the labor cost,” says Olivas, which is $8.50 a pound. “But when you pick them, they’re only $6.50 a pound, and you can eat them for free while you’re picking.” Olivas doesn’t use pesticides, so the berries are safe to eat on the spot.
One of Olivas’ favorite things about the farm is seeing kids’ reactions, especially eating berries they’ve never before tried. “They call boysenberries ‘poison berries,’” Olivas says with a laugh. “What? It’s poison? I’m not going to eat that! But then they taste it and think it’s the most amazing thing in the world. It’s also one of the most healthy foods out there.”
So move over broccoli, step back spinach, and hello blue and black, ollala and tay, boysen and raspberry. And if sticky fingers aren’t your jam, then visit Rancho Notso Grande’s onsite stand, which sells walnuts, pecans, take-and-bake cobblers and of course, berries and jams.
“We do wine tastings on the farm, too,” adds Olivas, who makes his own blueberry, apricot and nectarine wines.
But even without the wine, the jams, the take-and-bake cobblers, the 13 different varieties of berries and other tree-ripe fruits, Rancho Notso Grande would still be worth the visit. Because even if the farm offered only one round berry for the picking, that little globe would still provide a world ripe with flavor, plump with memories. Because like the berry patch down by the river or along the fence at Grandma’s house, the u-pick experience can’t be found in the aisle of a grocery store. It can only be found growing on the vine.
Rancho Notso Grande • 5051 12th Ave., Hanford • (559) 269-1152