The Monterey Market is a produce market in Berkeley, California. Back when Jim first started trying to sell Ojai Pixie tangerines, no one would buy them – no one knew what they were, and they didn’t get ripe until after tangerine season was over (tangerine season used to end after Christmas.) Bill is a kind of a genius, and he used the Monterey Market as a means of finding and supporting baby farmers like Jim and others who were growing something new, or extra good. He bought our Ojai Pixies when no one else would, and he bought everything we could grow for the first five years, and then he turned us loose on the world. Bill created a market for Ojai Pixie tangerines where there had been nothing before. He has since left the Monterey Market but remains first in the pantheon of those who have helped us continue to exist. The Monterey Market, by the way, remains a great place to find excellent produce.
Many chefs in the burgeoning restaurant scene that was the East Bay in the 1990s used to explore the back room at the Monterey Market where Bill Fujimoto was receiving the goodies from those farmers he was finding, looking for ingredients that sparked their imaginations or filled their menu needs.
One of those chefs was Lindsey Shere, the founding Pastry Chef at Chez Panisse. Lindsey started buying our fruit and putting it on her menu plain, unadorned. A plain tangerine, washed and possibly peeled, or maybe served with its leaves! It’s hard to remember how revolutionary that was. Lindsey, and Alice Waters, and Chez Panisse are right there next to Bill Fujimoto in the panoply of people who supported us when we were new kids on the block, peddling a fruit that no one had ever heard of.
Friends Ranches, friend and partner
Jim’s mom used to send Friends Ranches oranges to her friends back east back in the 1960s. Like us, but considerably more venerable, they grow and sell a lot of their fruit direct. They’re bigger than us so they also sell to the packing house, but selling direct is how to stay financially viable. They’ve been growing tangerines since before Churchill Orchard was even planted, and along with us are the original growers of Ojai Pixies. They aren’t organic, but they have more and different fruit varieties that we do and it’s all delicious.
Here are the first Ojai Pixie Growers, probably about 1990 – from left to right Mike Shore, Jim Churchill, Lisa Brenneis, Tony Thacher, Will Etchart and Bob Davis. The two handsome dudes in the center are Oscar Soto and Bill Gerlach from Melissa’s World Variety Produce, who took us on when we got to have too much fruit for the Monterey Market. More on Melissa’s below.
Here are the Ojai Pixie Growers a few years later – friends and neighbors and adventurous folk, willing to take a flyer on a venture that was beginning to look promising.
And here we all are in 2017! We’re still a tiny entity – we have about 240 acres of trees overall, and produce 3-5 million lbs in a season, or less than a week’s production for the big commodity citrus producers. But we are some 60 families, all in Ojai, all cooperating to produce and sell the best tangerines we can.
George Middleton and Oscar Soto of Melissa’s World Variety Produce, with Lisa Brenneis
Here’s Lisa with two of the folks from Melissa’s World Variety Produce at an in-store appearance. Jim found Melissa’s in 1994, after Monterey Market told him he needed more distribution. Jim remembers walking into a giant sales room alive with activity. He met Jimmy Hernandez, who took one bite of the tangerines that no one else could be bothered with and asked, How much have you got? When can you ship it? What’s your selling price? Melissa’s has been the number one seller of Ojai Pixie tangerines throughout the United States ever since.
Jim met Ken Hanawa (center, pictured with Tony Thacher and Japanese customer Mitsuyuki Sano “Sano-San”) through Masa Otagiri, two-cycle engine repairman and ramen chef extraordinaire. Ken was in the business of exporting California citrus to Japan, where he has a few select customers looking for the best fruit that California can produce. That would have been in the early 2000s; he still comes and walks the orchards every February to check for quality. He taught us things ranging from the simple – how to properly check brix – to the rudiments of selling produce to the Japanese market, reknowned for their selectivity. Exporting tangerines to Japan is one of our proudest achievements.
Jim, on behalf of Ojai Pixies, received a proclamation (and a medal!) for being voted Consumer’s Favorite Fruit from Oisix, the largest on-line produce seller in Tokyo! It has to have been 2010, because that was the year that Anna Thomas received the James Beard Foundation Medal for her cookbook Love Soup, and there was a Sunday at the Ojai Farmer’s Market when we both wore our medals!
A harvesting crew from Magaña Labor Services
There are so many operations we depend on year after year. Magaña Labor Services has been harvesting our tangerines and avocados for us for more than 20 years; and I’m here to testify that farm laborers are as amazing as any athletes you see on tv. Each person – man or woman – depending on the crop pulls from 100s to 1000s of pounds per day of whatever crop out of whatever farm they’re working at, and they do it when it’s 37º and they do it when it’s 105º, day after day after day. Saludos!
The crew at Shore Packing, Summer, 2020
We’ve been packing our tangerines at Shore Packing since 1990. We started with Fernando Gomez (rear, left) and now are working with Fernando Gomez Jr (next to him) – two generations!
Cuauhtemoc Bautista worked for us from 2009 to 2014, during which time we planted out most of the kishus. He was quiet, observant, a self-starter. Those were good years and we miss him.
Here’s Aida, Lisa’s mom, getting an excavator lesson from Mike.
They were younger then, maybe before they went away to college…Taylor (l) and Dana (r) Cook. Mike was attempting to utilize their services for ant control in the Block 5 Kishus; Taylor was probably pretending to work and Dana was probably working. I’m not sure either of them has been that dirty since. We love them to pieces.