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Friday, 14 November 2014 12:58

Evolution of an Orchard

just peeled persimmons are strung PicmonkeyJust peeled Hachiyas

by Dan Clarke

In 1911 Japanese immigrant Kitchitaro Kawano purchased 20-acres in southewestern Placer County. It was in the Rosedale Colony tract of Loomis and became known as Rosedale Farm in the early days. The Post Office now considers the same property to be in Granite Bay, a name most people in the area recognize as a very upscale Sacramento suburb near Folsom Lake.

After clearing the land, Kitchitaro and his wife, Momi, planted mostly to persimmons and grapes with some pears and peaches included in their plans. After the bottom dropped out of the grape market in the 1920s, plums became a more important crop for them. For years their plums, as well as fresh persimmons, were shipped to the eastern U.S. via the thriving packing sheds in Loomis. Kitchitaro Kawano died in 1939 and his widow and daughter Helen continued operation of the farm for a time.

Tosh Kuratomi picks persimmon PicmonkeyTosh Kuratomi finds a persimmon

During World War II Helen and her husband Seiichi Otow were interned at Tule Lake, and had to do considerable work to rehabilitate the farm after the war, but eventually put things on the right track. Helen still works on the farm, now known as Otow Orchard. Her daughter Chris and her husband Tosh Kuratomi, young retirees from other careers, are in charge these days, but they are aided by their children Michie and Toshio and other family members on an occasional basis.

Plums continued to be important for what had become Otow Orchard up to the 1960s and 70s, but that part of the business dwindled as the the packing shed activity waned. An acre of plums remains on the property, which has grown to 39-1/2 acres, but today they are just part of a more diversified operation. Peaches and persimmons provide most of the income, but the orchard also supplies walnuts, pecans, Gravenstein apples, Bartlett pears and Asian pears, apricots and various forms of citrus fruit. They also market a diverse array of vegetables from their garden. While Otow Orchard is still rural and surrounded by other small farms, residential development looms nearby. Perhaps this is a good thing, as most of their produce is sold at a farmstand on their Eureka Road property. Non-farming neighbors are good customers.

Helen Otow PickmonkeyHelen Otow checks drying Hoshigaki

Tosh Kuratomi, the unofficial spokesman for this family farm, says that they grow nine or ten varieties of persimmons. Otow Orchard's Hoshigaki (dried persimmon in Japanese) have garnered a lot of notoriety. Hachiya persimmons, picked when they are still hard and very astringent, are prepared by the family in a painstaking, traditional method. They're first peeled, then tied together in couplets and strung over wooden rails in racks to begin the drying process. Initially, they are left outside, but are moved indoor in the latter stages of ripening. As they soften over the six weeks of drying time they are massaged by hand to help them dry evenly. On the day California Fresh Fruit visited the orchard Toshio Kuratomi and his 98-year old grandmother, Helen, were both attending to this task in an indoor drying room. The preparation of Hoshigaki is labor-intensive, but this is a value-added enhancement of a small family farm's produce that maximizes return. Otow Orchard's website indicates that it will ship a one-pound package of the finished Hoshigaki for $44.00.

Editor's note: A more detailed explanation of the Hashigaki persimmon process, can be found at www.otoworchard.com.

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