DeMille’s Farm Market owner Brad DeMille is off on another 2,200 kilometre trip to sunny California, having sold eight tons of sweet satsuma oranges in the past 30 days.
This will be his second four-day road trip to the farm his grandpa Ralland DeMille bought when he moved to the sunny state 20 years ago.
“Grandpa planted two acres of satsumas, a derivative of the old Japanese oranges that we used to get as kids,” says DeMille, noting they are very tender and don’t ship well as they tend to crack. “Since I am taking care of them, when we put them in the truck we put them in very carefully.”
He says many orchards in California use an “umbrella method” and are shaken out of their trees.
Orchardists wait till the preferred level of sweetness is reached in at least 50 per cent of oranges of the tree, DeMille says, noting that after they fall, 50 per cent of the fruit stays in the neighbourhood, 25 per cent is shipped and the remaining 25 per cent becomes a component of citrus cleaner.
“So we’re a notch above lemon cleaner,” DeMille laughs, explaining the process is very different in his late grandpa’s orchard, now operated by his cousin Russell and wife Laura and Ramon, the lead hand on his grandfather’s farm, who continues to manage the orchard. “He bought the farm when Grandpa bought the farm!”
These satsumas are handpicked and hand-selected. Pickers go into the patches over a two-month period and pick them as they ripen, a process he says compares favourably with the handpicking that takes place on Okanagan orchards and makes for better fruit in the marketplace.
Every orange is handpicked, and snipped so the calyx is properly removed so the point doesn’t poke into the other oranges, says DeMille, explaining that a couple of years ago, he helped out in the orchard, taking seven hours to pick 1,000 pounds.
“We started selling these eight years ago; we brought 500 pounds and we thought that was a lot; now we’re on the road to 16,000 pounds this year,” he says. “Every year it seems to double, people are becoming more aware about what they put in their bodies.”
His most constant driving companion has been his father-in-law, Bill Wood, someone he describes as an excellent driver who allows DeMille to get a couple of hours of sleep before taking the wheel again.
“We drive 12 hours a day for four days, but we usually get a good eight hours sleep every night and we stop every couple of hours to stretch our legs,” he says.
Along with another 8,000 pounds of satsumas he will bring home on his orange odyssey that began on Saturday, Dec. 15, DeMille plans to bring back the first of the season’s navel oranges.
“They’re not stored, colour-dipped or eradicated and, last year, we sold 10 times more than the previous year,” he says.
And, in other news, DeMille’s outdoor skating rink will be operational this year, depending entirely on the whim of Mother Nature.