Farm Focus: Valley Cove Ranch Navel Oranges
These Bay Area exclusives are sweet, seedless and pesticide-free!
by Robbie Sigona
At Sigona’s, we’ve been carrying juicy, sweet navels all season long – and you’ve been buying them up like crazy. Now, for just a couple more weeks, we’ve got a special treat for you – Valley Cove navels from John Brinkman’s orchard in the nearby Sierra Foothills. I think you’ll love them: they are without a doubt, the sweetest orange we have. And you won’t find this orange in too many stores in the Bay area.
I’ve worked really hard to find a grower who produces these super-sweet large oranges, and what’s really great is that he doesn’t use any pesticides or chemicals on his fruit.
While John’s oranges aren’t certified organic, they’re good enough to be. He refuses to use chemical sprays in his orchard. John protects his precious trees from insect pests by bringing in beneficial predators like aphystis wasps and lacewings. And he’s much happier using good old-fashioned barnyard fertilizer instead of chemically-manufactured versions. Water to irrigate the orchard comes from the local Tule River and nearby lakes.
Some folks may wonder why he doesn’t get the official organic certification. John is around the same age as my grandfather, also a farmer. My grandfather will be 85 this June; John is 90. Both men continue to work the land every single day. And the methods they use are both decades-old and natural. They wouldn’t want to do it any other way. But they are men of their generation; they don’t like the idea of being told what to do and having some official on the property looking over their land. What’s more, neither one wants to take on the cost and bureaucracy of having his crops certified.
I want to tell you a bit more about why these oranges are so special. Local growing conditions support the sweet taste I mentioned earlier. Cold (but not freezing) temperatures are what oranges need to intensify their deep color and sugar content. You could think of it this way: sugar acts a bit like antifreeze, protecting the fruit from surrounding cold temperatures. The cooler the weather, the sweeter the fruit and the darker its color.
John waits until his oranges are perfectly tree-ripe. Only then do he and his team begin the job of picking each one by by hand. Keeping the fruit on the tree as long as possible is the secret that makes their intense sweetness even better. Yet the natural tartness in citrus keeps the sweet flavor from becoming overpowering. After picking, the oranges are hand-packed to prevent bruising during the short shipment to our store.
Compare that to large agribusiness. Many of those growers must pick their oranges a bit green to keep them stable for shipping over thousands of miles, so they’re picked immature and gassed with ethylene gas, which gives them a kind of yellowy color – but they never turn deep orange. That’s because they didn’t ripen on the tree, the way nature intended. And by the way, you’d be right if you guessed their sugar is off, too.
With an easy-peel rind and seedless interior, the California navel orange is considered the best orange for eating out of hand – and the Valley Cove oranges are a treat you won’t want to miss. Whether you eat them plain, juice them, or use them in cooking, seek out these pesticide-free oranges from Sigona’s. They’re simply some of the sweetest, juiciest oranges around, sweetened even more by their environmentally-friendly growing methods.