Forty years ago the Hoovers bought a Bartlett pear farm and moved from the buzz of Los Angeles to a piece of land just outside Placerville, where birds chirp and the only buzz you hear is that of bees. To city folk, this sounds divine. But for the Hoovers it was the beginning of year round work with little time off. About 15 years later, farmers markets took off in California, and that offered Hooverville Orchards a chance to really push themselves and grow the best quality fruit around with customers ready to buy. Over the years, they’ve toiled and tweaked in order to figure out which produce the land would embrace and ended up with over 100 different varieties of fruit and a year-round operation.
With the orchard in full swing, Chris Hoover, his sister and his mother had more than enough work to fill a day. However, Mrs. Hoover had a dream she intended to fulfill. She’d always wanted a pie shop, so in 1993 the Hoovers built the Bake Shop along with a cold storage. The benefit was twofold; Mrs. Hoover realized her dream and at the same time cut down the farm’s waste as she created over 25 varieties of pie each highlighting fruit grown in the orchard. Mrs. Hoover took command of her shop and perfected her recipe, so it made sense to unveil her dream via a celebration.
The only challenge was the time of year. The farm swells with produce by mid-August: peaches, nectarines, plums, apples and those incredible Asian pears. This abundance of product requires an abundance of work, but Chris and his siblings like to appease their mother. As a result, they created Harvest Daze to celebrate both opening the Bake Shop and the annual bounty. They spelled Daze with a z to connote the insanity of hosting a huge public party during the busiest time of year.
This year Hooverville Orchards celebrated its 20th annual Harvest Daze event. As with each year before, the festivities included rotisserie pig roasted over fruit wood from the orchard, homemade pies, soft serve ice cream with fresh fruit atop, a watermelon eating contest, musical chairs, a sack hop, a DJ and reduced prices on fruit. This year about 1000 people celebrated Harvest Daze with the Hoovers. In years past, Harvest Daze guests consumed two pigs over the weekend, but more recently they’ve devoured five pigs over the two day event.
As Chris mentioned, organizing and hosting Harvest Daze puts him in a daze. He and his family work 16 hour days before, during and after the event, and then it’s back to the farmers market on Tuesday. Actually Chris calls it “hell week.” But he quickly explains how nice it is to have his extended family home; he’s one of 13. His siblings now live between Seattle and San Diego, so it’s great to have them back on the farm. “This is the one time of year we all get together,” he says. As the family has grown and relocated, his mother understands life is too busy to make it back to the farm for the holidays. “We’re a tight family,” says Chris, so Harvest Daze becomes something like a family reunion that’s open to the public.
Family members have their annual tasks. Some prefer the liveliness of the contests while others would rather kick back and serve the food. Chris sells the produce, of course, as he’s the resident expert in fruit varieties and backgrounds; his mother makes the pies, his sister makes the jam and runs the games; his brother, who built the barbecue, arises at 4:30 am each day to stand watch over roasting pigs. The added benefit for family members who live off the farm and work Harvest Daze is free fruit all year. Chris finally has help, and the family reaps the reward all year long.
After ten years of Harvest Daze, Chris thought it a wonderful event that had run its course. His mother had other ideas. They just celebrated their 20th event with no end in sight.
Aside from welcoming family back to the farm, Harvest Daze invites Hooverville Orchards’ customers to climb out of the city into the country. Nestled one mile off Hwy 49 and five miles out of Placerville, the farm offers incredible views and a sense of peace one’s hard-pressed to find in the city. Not only do farmers market customers get out of the city for a day, but they get behind-the-scenes experience by visiting the orchard. Talking to Chris Hoover, one discovers the amount of energy farm life requires. It’s rough, dirty and “you never know what’s gonna happen.”
If you listen carefully, you hear the lilt in his words, the smile in his voice. He speaks of each product with such pride, discusses the high sugar in his Asian pears like a proud father. He laughs as he recounts how his wife recently told him she “loves being married to a farmer because she gets the first of the fruit and the last of the fruit.” There are people out there working hard everyday in uncertain conditions, but they do it because the work is meaningful. The folks at Hooverville Orchards are some of those folks. They farm with grace and generosity. Don’t pass up a chance to get to know these folks at the next Harvest Daze during the third weekend in August.