Feeding Off Family Heritage and the World’s Best Blueberry Smoothies
Mark and Alice Richmond of Box R Ranch in Visalia are your AHO blueberry farmers. The enchantingly named Southmoons, Stars, Emeralds, and Jewel blueberry varieties dot the bushes on the seven acres at their home place, named after Mark’s grandfather’s Midwestern cattle ranch.
Mark and Alice bought their home place just outside of Visalia about ten years ago. Before that, they were “regular town people” with regular jobs. Mark was an elementary school teacher and principal for twenty-five years, and Alice works as a bookkeeper. The two grew up in Tulare, and met and were married there thirty-five years ago.
The home place was a walnut orchard at that time, and Mark jumped into farming wholeheartedly, discovering the ins and outs of a profession he had previously only watched from a distance. Alice had grown up on a dairy and her father had been a row crop farmer, so farm life was familiar to her, and she was happy to get back to the country. After a few years, they made the switch to blueberries.
“I’m pretty nostalgic. That old green John Deere out there,” he said pointing to an antique tractor in the yard, “My granddad had a tractor just like that. I just remember the farm and how in those days, people all had little farms and that’s how they made their living. It wasn’t a matter of having money in the bank or having extra money to buy toys with or something, it was a matter of putting food on the table and that’s how they made their ends meet. I like that,” he concluded.
Jumping into farming as a supplement for Mark’s retirement from teaching has been a family project. The Richmond’s do all the work themselves except the pruning and harvest, jobs that require more hands. Tax season ends just in time for harvest, so during the years Mark was still working at the school, Alice would run the harvest crews for ten hours a day for six weeks every year. She also keeps the books for the farm, putting to use her twenty-six years of experience with grower statements, pack outs, and crunching numbers for farmers.
Working outdoors, passing a morning driving the tractor down the rows of berries, watching the plants grow and develop, it’s all a joy for Mark, one he takes pride in. And even when the school year is over, Mark has homework to do in the field. He usually works all day on Saturday, and for three or four hours after coming home from school, tackling weeds, mulching, monitoring, keeping the fields clean.
“I wage war on weeds,” he said smiling, “It’s a war between me and them and I take it pretty serious that I’m going to win. And you almost have to approach it that way if you’re an organic farmer, otherwise they’d really take over the plants.”
This year, retirement has made Mark into a full time blueberry farmer, so those weeds had better look out.
When the Richmond’s started farming blueberries, they bought a freezer and it is packed. It has to be; Farmer Mark has a blueberry smoothie for breakfast every morning.
“When I was teaching, I took one to school with me every single morning and people would say, ‘There goes Richmond with his coffee.’ But it was a blueberry smoothie, every morning,” he said. “I notice that my mind is always clear and thinking, I think it really helps with that, I think my overall physical health is better too.”
Mark and Alice aren’t the only ones benefiting from the wealth of blue gems in their fields. Seeing as they’re as generous as they are sincere about the joy of watching a berry go from green to red to blue, folks in their sphere don’t go long without a blueberry experience. Alice, who has a very credible sounding claim to the best blueberry muffin recipe in the world, bestows pails of blueberries upon her co-workers during harvest and Mark would always bring an annual batch of his famous smoothie to school for all the kids to try.
Mark and Alice’s two sons, each grown and with a non-farming careers of their own, have taken interest in the new family business.
“I was watching Mark and the two boys out in the field, and they were walking the rows, noticing the different sands, and different soils, and it was just neat to see the family out there together, that’s what it’s all about.” Alice said, recounting a recent Saturday on the farm.
Mark and Alice’s blueberries make an appearance seasonally in you Abundant Harvest Organics subscription box.