Local & in Season: Unique Bartlett Pears from Dashing Ranch
New farmer Eiran Ben-Dashan dry-farms organic Bartlett pears in the Santa Cruz Mountains…but these aren’t just any ol’ Bartletts!
We have a new crop of Bartlett pears in the store now you’ve got to try. They’re not just any pears, they’re locally grown, dry-farmed and organic heirloom Bartlett pears. Now that’s a mouthful!
Pears this unique don’t come along by chance that often, however, fate smiled on Eiran Ben-Dashan when he decided to leave the world of electronics in China and buy property in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Part of his purchase included a house, built in 1882, and four acres of abandoned pear trees – an orchard that had gone un-nurtured for nearly 50 years.
“I had never farmed a day before, but I felt that if I were going to take over, I needed to bring the orchard back up to its potential,” said Eiran. “The pears had survived 50 years on their own because of the high water table in the mountains, so they’re considered dry-farmed, meaning they weren’t and aren’t manually irrigated. They’re also naturally organic, as they grew on their own while abandoned.”
Eiran’s dry-farmed, registered organic heirloom Bartletts are outstanding when they’re perfectly ripe. They’re juicy, sweet and loaded with flavor, and Sigona’s is the only store in the immediate Bay Area to carry them. See Robbie’s produce tips for how to know when a pear is perfectly ripe!
“I thought of Sigona’s as a local outlet as soon as I purchased the property,” said Eiran. “during the 20 years I lived in Asia, I’d come back once a month to our home in San Carlos, and I would always stop at Sigona’s for olive oil and other items I couldn’t get overseas. I’ve always appreciated the way they support small, local and organic operations and their quality of fruit, so it was natural for me to approach Sigona’s.”
Pears Growing in the Mountains?
Are you wondering why someone planted a pear orchard in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the first place? That was one of the first questions we asked. Luckily, Eiran has met the son of the former owner of the property to learn a little more about its history.
“I’ve learned the house was built in 1882, which is more funky than romantic, and that the orchard was likely planted in the late 1880s, as the previous owner’s son said his dad was farming those trees in the early part of the last century,” said Eiran. “The orchard was planted to supply the canneries in Sunnyvale, and they only wanted Bartletts at the time. This plot in the mountains happened to be perfect for growing pears.”
Eiran explained that his orchard, which is near the epicenter of the Loma Preita earthquake, just south of Summit Road exit off Highway 17 in the Santa Cruz Mountains, sits atop a high water table, allowing the trees roots to reach a good supply of water for the trees, eliminating the need for irrigation; hence the dry-farmed tag.
Some farmers choose to dry-farm their crops, if they live in the right areas, but Eiran’s Bartlett trees have been naturally dry-farmed since day one.
What is Dry-Farming
Dry-farming makes so the roots of plants or trees grow deep to seek a water source. They’re grown without any more water than what Mother Nature provides through rainfall and what lies underground. As a result, the produce itself doesn’t receive or retain any extra water, so what you’re left with is fruit that’s simply exploding with pure, natural flavor.
One bite of these Bartletts, when they’re golden ripe, and you’ll thank the Santa Cruz Mountains for its water retaining abilities.
Another reason the Santa Cruz Mountains are ideal for growing Bartletts is the unique climate. The mountains get the ocean breezes, but don’t get any fog – Eiran’s orchard sits above the fog bank. The area also has high daytime temperatures, but cool nights, allowing the trees to recover from heat. The winters are cold enough that it snows, but the cold also sends the trees into a beneficial deep dormancy.
Never Say No to a Challenge
As a newbie farmer, Eiran sought out an industry expert to watch over his operations and help him get his bearings. Now in his third year on the farm, Eiran is more familiar with processes, but still has the consultant come look over his shoulder from time to time.
“Though the trees were alive, they’d been abandoned and needed some nurturing,” said Eiran. “We’ve taken care to place mulch around the trees and feed them with organic fertilizer once a year; they’ve responded well. Another key to good and consistent production is thinning, which helps the trees retain carbs so they produce more regularly, and it helps the tree concentrate its energy into the remaining fruit, making for larger and sweeter pears.”
Dry-farmed fruit is typically smaller, but Eiran’s pears responded well this year, thanks to his thinning practice. Thinning also allows him to better control the appearance of fruit because he can weed out the misshapen or badly scabbed pieces, leaving behind the best for harvest.
“Organic farmers are usually limited in what they can do with appearance, but with thinning I was able to have more control over uniformity,” said Eiran. “I still have a lot to learn, but it’s encouraging to see the healthier trees responding to our practices and producing more fruit.”
Eiran doesn’t have plans to stop with just pears. He and his wife and two children have also started gardening for their household, growing about 80 percent of their own produce this season. He also plans to plant other varieties of fruit on his property to see how they respond to dry-farm practices.
“My five year plan is to restore the orchard and cover costs, which can be difficult with organic practices, but we’re getting there,” said Eiran. “I also plan to plant other fruits to determine what does well here. I’m not interested in growing something someone can grow better than what I’m able to produce; I want to know what does well here so it can express itself in the best way possible for people to enjoy.”
Eiran’s dedication to his new trade is inspiring, and we are honored he chose to sell at Sigona’s. We hope you come by for Eiran’s locally grown, dry-farmed and organic heirloom Bartlett pears. With your support, he can continue growing these one-of-a-kind treats for years to come.
Check out our Bartlett pear recipes for some favorites from Eiran’s family and the Sigona family. Enjoy!