No Place Like Sweet Home (Sweet Home Ranch produce at Sigona’s)

No Place Like Sweet Home

Sweet Home Ranch in Dinuba, Calif., provides us with certified California Clean stone fruits that burst with sweet, tree-ripened flavors of summer.

Sweet Home Ranch. Just the name evokes the image of an idyllic setting amongst rolling hills and green rows of crops, don’t you think?

Ruth & Paul Buxman of Sweet Home Ranch, pictured at Sigona’s during our 2010 Meet the Farmer Day.

It’s in Dinuba, Calif., near Fresno, that third-generation farmers Paul & Ruth Buxman work such a landscape. They operate Sweet Home Ranch – yes, it really does look like that – growing some of the sweetest, most succulent and tree-ripened peaches, nectarines, Santa Rosa plums, oranges, Concord grapes, mandarins and more.

All locally grown summer stone fruit we carry from Sweet Home Ranch is fantastic and what makes unique is the growing method.

All Sweet Home Ranch produce is certified California Clean, which, in short, means the fruits are grown using no organic or synthetic pesticides. This certified farming system protects the environment, supports small family farms, and delivers extraordinary produce at an affordable price. It’s one of the first eco-label movements in the state that works to discover and promote cleaner, more eco-friendly ways to produce nut and stone fruit crops.

It might not be certified organic, but captures the idea embedded within. Buxman also uses integrated pest management (IPM), which is a rotation of beneficial insects to help eliminate harmful pests and the need for pesticides. In fact, Sweet Home Ranch received the E.P.A’s first ever Integrated Pest Management Innovators Award for advancing the reduction of pesticide use.

But there’s more to it than that. California Clean is also a way of life for the farmer, the land and its workers.

Other criteria for being California Clean, a collaborative that Buxman founded in support of environmental farming, require each certified farm to be family owned, and that the family must live on the farm. What’s more is that at Sweet Home Ranch, workers come first; they are considered family, and family is important to the Buxmans. Free babysitting is available on site for the children of all workers, and each worker is given a vacation every year to visit their families, with Buxman paying the transportation bill.

Buxman also reserves a portion of his land for his workers to grow their own crops, providing all of the necessary water, equipment and fertilizers needed. In exchange he says he was won extreme loyalty from his employees. The Buxmans have a green thumb AND a big heart.

“For us, farming is a matter of being good neighbors and good stewards of the land entrusted to us,” said Paul. “Our fruit grows in a natural environment, surrounded by song birds, lady bugs, grassy undergrowth and snow-melt irrigation, making for a great farm, great soil and great food.”

Once picked, the fruit from Sweet Home Ranch is delivered directly to the stores. In fact, Sigona’s is one of the handful of retailers Paul to which Paul delivers! Buxman doesn’t deal with wholesale, instead he eliminates the middleman and his fruit spends less time on the road burning oil. As such, the fruit also arrives fresher and has been picked riper.

Fruit which is too ripe to travel falls into the hands of Ruth Buxman who makes it into preserves, which we also sell. The fruit travels from the tree to the stove without leaving the farm, and the family stands at the stove making homemade preserves in small batches. Each jar is then stamped and hand-signed by either Ruth, Paul or their son. It’s another family affair.

We’ll carry Buxman’s fruit from Sweet Home Ranch throughout most of the summer. Make sure to look for the California Clean signs up in our store – you can’t miss them. Here’s a sampling of what we have in the store now:

Santa Rosa Plum: Ask any plum fanatic and they’ll say the Santa Rosa is the best plum around. It’s the standard against which all plums are judged. They have a dark, tart skin that’s balanced by their sweet, yellow flesh. Even though they’re the most flavorful plum of all time, only a handful of Santa Rosa orchards remain in California. The variety goes from perfectly ripe to very soft so quickly that most commercial farms have opted for tougher varieties that can be more easily transported – that’s why you won’t find this variety in most supermarkets. Find them at Sigona’s.

White Flesh Peaches: Delicate and fragrant, the white flesh peach has a floral, sweet flavor that hints to honey and roses. Their flesh is a creamy pink and can be eaten either when  crunchy, making them perfect for salads, or once they’ve ripened at room temperature for a juicer experience.

Yellow Flesh Peaches: Looking for that classic peach flavor? Get some yellow flesh peaches. They have that delightful, sweet flavor that Paul Buxman says, “can redeem almost any difficult day.”

White Flesh Nectarines: Sweet Home Ranch was one of first farms in California to offer white flesh nectarines. These beauties are unique in that they can achieve the highest levels of sweetness because this variety is considered to be sub-acid (though some white varieties can be acidic). The sub-acid white flesh nectarine we have has a delicate, sweet flavor that’s almost perfumed with hints of roses.

Yellow Flesh Nectarine (variety: Honeykist): Anything with the word honey in the name is guaranteed to be sweet, and you can bet the yellow-fleshed Honeykist nectarine is indeed sweet. This variety has a mellow sweet flavor with a light, balanced tartness, whereas other nectarines carry a more tangy-tart punch. The unique taste of yellow flesh nectarines, combined with their natural high levels of pectin, make them perfect for hearty cobblers and thick preserves.

A note from Paul Buxman: Did you know fruits with some visual imperfections are generally sweeter and more nutritious than those so-called “perfect” fruits? We call the fruits with small scars “Nature Kissed.” The USDA tested fruits with small, natural scars from wind, insects or hail and found their sugars and mineral content were condensed; it turns out that a little natural adversity is a good thing! It builds strength and character, not only in fruit but in us as well. So don’t be afraid of slight imperfections. They indicate sweetness within. Beauty is, after all, only skin deep.

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