As you wind through the hills of Placerville, you come upon a side street with a small sign citing an El Dorado Farm Trail. You meander down, curious about the farm ahead, rolling under a tunnel of oak and evergreen, stopping at a pond loaded with lily pads and surrounded by small statues of saints, a raccoon, and a tiny man fishing from a rock. The longer you look, the more creatures you see, but you’re here for the produce so you continue on passing half-naked trees from which tired red leaves reach for the ground.
As you pull up, you’re greeted by Robert who’s rummaging through giant boxes loaded with apples, oranges and Asian pears. You stuff your bag full of every apple variety you can imagine and a few you’ve never heard of and open another for the pears after you learn Hooverville Orchards was the “first to grow Asian pears in El Dorado County and is still the largest producer in the county.”
Once you notice the Bakeshop, you’re even more thrilled you made the turn down that discreet country road. Inside you find Val prepping and putting out pies: apple, peach, apple-berry or some other magical concoction. The shop’s filled with kitch and homemade jam; you imagine Grandma Barbara and her daughter Connie tweaking recipes until they got just the right balance of fruit and sugar. You can even see Grandma sitting in front of her grandchildren teaching them how to make pie, perfecting every crust, ever careful to correct mistakes before they became habits. You select the peach-raspberry pie and pluck a section of crust from the box before you set it in the car. Cinnamon, sugar and crust flake together over your palate and you wonder if that pie will even make it the twenty minute drive home.
Sure, you visited the farm, but there was so much you missed—like the fact that the farm is open 365 days a year, rain or shine, making the workweek 7 days long. You probably didn’t see Dennis mowing leaves for mulch and feeding the peacocks whose feathers you petted in the Bakeshop. Certainly you missed Ramon, the tree-care expert, who’s worked with Chris Hoover since Chris took over the farm from his parents in 1980. Nor did you see the men in the fields picking Satsuma Mandarins from trees pregnant and dripping, or those fixing micro sprinklers and pruning trees. Everyone at Hooverville Orchards works twelve hour days; there are no spontaneous weekend getaways or sick days. Even during late winter when things slow down a bit, Robert reminds us, “just because no one’s picking anything doesn’t mean nothing’s happening.” There’s always pruning, fertilizing, tractor maintenance or spraying to do—though they use all organic sprays and don’t spray when bees are buzzing.
For Chris Hoover and his right-hand-man, Robert, farming reprieve comes by way of venturing to the farmers markets. Hooverville Orchards sells at markets as far east as Lake Tahoe, throughout the Sacramento region and as far west as the San Francisco Bay Area. In order to keep the spots they’ve paid for, Chris and Robert must consistently show up at each market during the season. That means in the summer, they go to market every other day, while in the winter they go three times per week. The guys love market days; both boisterous with large grins and even larger voices, they call out, “one free piece of fruit for every child” in between weighing bags of fruit, counting change and refilling bins. They bounce around the stall never colliding as if traveling two separate tracks at light speed. One could argue they’re the most entertaining sellers at the market as they call out “go Niners” through football season in between educating customers on their products. They insist they’ve got the best of the fruit world at their mountain-grown stand because their fruit benefits from cold nights, which raises sugar content, and warm days, which enriches color.
Once you learn all you didn’t see upon first visit, you imagine what all that hard work and perfect climate means for their 100 fruit varieties, and you mark you calendar for the third weekend in August when you can bring your family and friends to Hooverville Orchards. During Harvest Daze, you’ll tour the orchard, sample fresh barbecue pork, play games, hang out with peacocks, stock up on homemade jam and salivate over Grandma Barbara’s original pies. Whether you visit the farm or the farmers market, you’ll always get an outstanding piece of fruit coupled with a few laughs with the folks from Hooverville Orchards, and that beats the grocery store produce aisle with its polished fruit and fake thunderstorms any day!