Cultivating a Century of Stories and Sweet Mountain Pears
Lake County California is home to California’s largest natural lake, a portion of its rich wine country, a smattering of quaint, quiet towns as well as three generations of Mostin family mountain pear growers.
Dave Mostin’s grandfather immigrated to the United States from Belgium and put his first pear trees in the ground in mountain pear region in the year 1930. Mostin’s father expanded the family operation with more trees the 50s. Thirty years later Dave and his wife Cheryl bought nine acres down the road, effectively putting down roots of their own in the soil of the family pear growing tradition.
A block of trees in one of the six orchards Dave now manages was planted at the turn of last century and has been producing fruit since before electricity became a common household convenience in small town California. The pears those trees produce, so long as the tree is pruned hard, taste the same as they always have, offering what might be one of the only consistencies in the pear industry over the last 100 years.
When Dave was in high school there were 400 or 500 California pear growers across the state. Today, there are approximately 65.
“I’m not doing the same stuff my dad did and we’re not doing the same stuff my grandfather did,” Dave said, recounting that attention to detail remains the most important factor in growing a good piece of fruit, even if the methodology changes.
Among the differences are the technological advancements of computerized weather monitoring systems, electronic meters to measure moisture in the soil two feet underground, and organic pheromone programs to control harmful insects.
The next generation of Mostins, Sebastian, 24, Cherrine, 22, Glenn,19, and Nils,17, are fairly well spread out across the country and involved in everything from engineering to professional music to ski slope hopping to finishing up high school.
Dave can relate to the draw to the wider world. His change of heart about running the family farm could be listed among the changes that have taken place in the pear industry over the last 35 years. Before heading off to college, Dave “wanted nothing to do with” a future in running the family farm. He left and went off to earn his degree in anthropology (think Indiana Jones) from Berkeley in the 70s.
Dave’s interest in artifacts had been peaked as a child when erosion unearthed a Native American burial ground on his grandfather’s property. It was at one time the oldest known burial site in the continental United States, though it is relatively young in comparison to more recent finds.
Dave’s aspirations to teach and excavate gave way after two summers spent running the farm after his father took on the roll of County Supervisor in the Lake County government. “I kind of got a kick out of it,” Dave remembered, “I made some changes and made it easier and faster and cheaper.” Dave’s interest turned a corner after that experience and after graduation, Dave and Cheryl got to work on their newly acquired nine acres of pear trees.
Cheryl Mostin was a student teacher at that time and during the first years she ran the picking crew during her summer breaks from school. “She still does all the paperwork, all the financials, the computer, spread sheet, payroll, she does all of it,” Dave said. She also still teaches at a nearby school.
Pears are somewhat unique in the agriculture world in that they are very region specific. They are grown in just a handful of California counties in an area of less than 10,000 acres in two distinct regions in the state. All of Dave’s orchards are located within a two mile radius from his home orchard and each one, he said, has a micro-climate of its own. The fruit in each orchard reaches maturity and harvest readiness on a slightly different schedule depending on the characteristics of the soil, proximity to the lake or creek, and variations in temperature among other factors.
But, regardless of how localized the pear growing process is, Dave is constantly reminded that he is connected to the world economy. And because of that, he makes it a point to stay informed about and involved with legislation that affects farmers. He is on the board of directors for the Lake County Farm Bureau, is a certified pest control applicator for the state of California, and has traveled to Washington D.C. twice in the past ten years to meet with legislators and heads of department. Dave’s a good one for the job as he can throw out industry statistics as if they were common knowledge and comes across as someone who truly knows his stuff. And of course he does, pear growing is in his blood.
Dave’s position as the caretaker of 112 year old fruit trees seems to have taken his childhood interest in artifacts and history full circle. It started in the orchards and is now represented by living trees that might not be ancient, but are by all means historic. However, Dave compares his roll more to that of a parent than a archeologist, though he does appreciate this history of the land in his charge.“It’s sort of like taking care of my kids, as long as you treat them well, make sure they do the right thing, it’s a lot of fun,” he said.
Dave Mostin’s Mountain Bartlett pears are included in season in your Abundant Harvest Organics subscription boxes.