How do you produce? A tour of Clovis area fruit and vegetable stands

Heulong Siong, the owner of Siong’s Strawberry Farm. (Photos by Valerie Shelton)

Summertime is upon us, as is the scorching Central Valley heat, but alongside the warmer weather comes a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables. As early as April, the small strawberry and fruit stands sprinkled throughout Fresno County started opening for business, selling early berries as well as delicious green veggies, and just a few short weeks ago, the popular Friday night Clovis Old Town Farmer’s Market returned giving locals ample opportunity to shop for all that is fresh and local. For those of us already ready to turn off the stoves and ovens to keep our homes cool, the fresh fruit and vegetables couldn’t have come sooner as now its time for refreshing salads and fruit smoothies. Luckily, living in the agriculture-rich Valley, we have several places we can go to purchase our favorite fruits and vegetables. Here is some information about a few places in and around Clovis where people can pick up fresh produce:

How do you produce photo 3Clovis strawberry stands
There is nothing like a fresh deep red strawberry, sweetened by the Central Valley sun.

The state of California is known for the delicious berry—producing nearly 90 percent of all strawberries in the United States. The majority of these are grown on the coast, where weather conditions remain temperate year-round, but the strawberries in the Central Valley are renowned for being the sweetest. Even so, the Fresno County Fruit Trail boasts only 16 remaining strawberry stands, almost all operated by farmers from the Hmong and Mien hill tribes of Laos. Three of these strawberry stands are in Clovis—Siong’s Strawberry Farm on Willow north of Behymer, Saetern’s Strawberry Farm on Shaw east of Locan, and Saeteurn’s Family Farm on Magill Avenue, off of Herndon between Willow and Peach.

All three stands have been prominent in the Clovis area for years, while the families that operate them have been farming strawberries in the Valley for decades, moving from location to location wherever they could lease the land to grow their crops.

Yang Siong, the son of Heulong Siong, the owner of Siong’s Strawberry Farm Stand, said the stand on Willow and Behymer has been operated by his family since 2006, but his family has been growing strawberries since 1992, at first growing for other companies before opting to open their own fruit stand in Visalia and then in Clovis. For many years, the family sold from a stand on Bullard and Temperance, then from one on Shepherd and Temperance, before coming to where they are now, just steps from Clovis Community College and Clovis North High School.

How do you produce photo 2Daniel Saeteurn, who runs the Saeteurn Family Farm on Magill with his parents Muang and Meng, said his family has a similar history, having farmed in the Clovis area for 28 years, at first near Belmont and McCall and then across the street from where they are now, on Herndon and Willow where the Clovis Commons Shopping Center is now located.

Seng Kosila, whose in-laws own and operate the Saetern Strawberry stand on Shaw, said their family has also moved around a bit, but has been at their current location for the past five years.

Each family shares a long and vibrant history of moving from place to place to produce the best strawberries you can find, but be assured you can get more than just strawberries at these stands. Many feature a variety of other berries—raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and Saeteurn’s Family Farm even offers loganberries and olallieberries. Many stands also sell stone fruits, like peaches, plums and apricots. Vegetables are prominently sold too—green beans, carrots, squash, lettuce, kale, beets, peppers, daikon, eggplant, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, cucumbers and more. Many stands also sell herbs like cilantro, parsley and basil.

Everything is grown according to what is in season.

How do you produce photo 4“Strawberries are from April to June, blueberries we have May until mid-June, boysenberries don’t last long at all, maybe a month only, raspberries are the same way, and blackberries last longer because they are more firm and we should have them until July, hopefully,” Siong said.

Siong said with the weather constantly changing, it is hard to predict what they are going to have and when, and though the spring rains have helped many, showers in early May did hurt the Siong’s strawberry crop since strawberries spoil as soon as they get wet, he said. That is also why Siong said he always tells people not to wash their strawberries until they are ready to eat them.

“What people don’t understand with strawberries is they buy them from here and go home and wash them and put them in the fridge and the next day they are rotten and people say ‘hey, I just bought these yesterday and they are rotten today’ and we ask them what they did and they tell us they took them home, cut them up and washed them and put them in the fridge and that is where they went wrong,” Siong said. “With strawberries, you never wash one until you eat it. That is why when it rains all the strawberries rot. Strawberries react really fast so if you’re not going to eat the strawberries right away, don’t wash them. The best thing to do is buy what you can eat for that day and just come back because we’re fresh and local.”

Siong also said it is important to remember that fresh local strawberries don’t have the shelf life of some store bought varieties, but those non-local strawberries are often picked green so they don’t have the flavor, and they are also sprayed with preservatives that help them look nice and stay red for a long time.

“People always ask us why our strawberries don’t last long and the question they should be asking is why do the strawberries they bought at the store last for a month and how come they don’t rot? That is the real question they should be asking.”

Siong said people should also be aware that while some strawberries they may find at the store are advertised as locally grown, what that really means is that they were grown in California. Siong said their strawberry field is currently the largest in the area and they can barely supply their own stand, although they do supply some strawberries to The Market on Herndon and West in Fresno.

“When you go to Wal-Mart or Savemart and the fruit or vegetables say locally grown, they mean California grown,” Siong said. “At The Market, when they say local, they can point you to where they got it from and in 10 minutes, you’re there. That is the difference.”

How do you produce photo 6Olive Oil and more at Enzo’s Table
Once you have your bushel of summer vegetables, it’s time to find a good dressing to pour on top of your salad. Why not try one of Enzo’s Table’s famous olive oils or their new balsamic?

Enzo’s line of extra virgin olive oil has been recognized for superior taste and quality, winning esteemed competitions in New York, Japan, Italy, Napa Valley and Los Angeles. Already, Enzo’s olive oil has won 57 medals to date just in the 2016 season.

Enzo’s line of organic extra virgin olive oil includes a basil-infused olive oil, a garlic-infused olive oil and a Meyer lemon-infused olive oil, as well as regular extra virgin olive oils in bold, medium and delicate.

Co-owner Vincent Ricchiuti said what sets Enzo’s Olive Oil apart is great attention to detail.

“After we harvest, we’re able to quickly process our olives so the olive oil is as fresh as possible,” Ricchiuti said. “This is local, straight from the farmer, and it couldn’t get more direct.”

How do you produce photo 7Pairing perfectly with Enzo’s well-known olive oil is a new line of balsamic vinegars, which were introduced late last year.

“Our balsamic was launched at Christmastime and it is organic balsamic made by a small producer in Italy,” Ricchiuti said. “We have three varieties in our balsamic—regular, apple and fig—and they are exquisite. It goes hand-in-hand with our olive oil and was one of the most requested items. For four years I worked on finding the right producer for it and I couldn’t be happier with it.”

Enzo’s Table also carries a variety of stone fruits, berries, nuts and vegetables, most grown just steps away from the store on Shepherd and Willow. Everything sold that is not grown or made by Enzo’s Table and P-R Farms, such as the Fresno State ice cream, is grown or made by local farmers and producers.

“The vegetable garden is behind the store and vegetables are picked fresh daily, we have the stone fruit across the street and our almonds are across the other street,” Ricchiuti said. “If we aren’t growing it, we partner with other local farmers so everything in the store is local. The boysenberries, for example, come from another local farmer and they are delicious. People come in and buy flats of these berries all the time so they can go home and make jam.”

As a store, Enzo’s Table offers a farmer’s market style atmosphere year-round, but on Saturdays and Sunday, Enzo’s is also a hot lunch spot for locals, as nine local food trucks park in Enzo’s parking lot and sell their products to hungry patrons.

“It makes for a wonderful atmosphere where people cane come for lunch and sample foods from different vendors,” Ricchiuti said. “It is a unique experience.”

How do you produce photo 8

Everything is peachy at Wawona’s Peach Tree Fruit Stand
It can’t be summer without stone fruit and the king of stone fruit is, of course, the peach. Clovis, of course, has peaches by the bucket load thanks to Wawona Frozen Foods and the Peach Tree Fruit Stand.

While Wawona Frozen Foods has grown to become the largest producer of frozen fruits in the nation—yes, the Clovis business is renowned on a national level—Wawona and its founding family, the Smittcamps, have stayed true to their humble beginnings, constantly giving back to the community and preserving the little Peach Tree Fruit Stand which still sits on a small portion of the 40 acres left of the original processing plant property on Minnewawa and Nees, across from Buchanan High School.

Just a few short weeks ago, the Peach Tree Fruit Stand reinstated its daily schedule for the late spring and summer season and those old and young craving the tastiest peaches around are already stopping by the popular stand in waves.

Linda Smittcamp the little stand is almost as old as the Wawona operation itself, which started in the 1950s when Linda’s in-laws, Earl and Muriel Smittcamp, bought the property on Minnewawa and began processing fresh fruit. The operation got bigger and bigger until their sons, including Linda’s husband Bill, started working in the business; then it expanded even more. Through all the growth spurts Wawona has achieved, the fruit stand started by Muriel has remained practically the same—although the stand itself has had a facelift in recent years.

How do you produce photo 9“We’ve always had this fruit stand,” Linda Smittcamp said. “My mother-in-law started it and it was just a way to get rid of culls. Culls are the fruit that you don’t pack, so it is just sort of the throw away fruit so she started the stand and sold them and we would always call it her egg money because she would get this money and then at the end of the season, she would split it up between all of us. We call it her egg money because it was kind of her mad money and she ran it for several years and then she just got tired and wasn’t working. My sister-in-law took it over for a little while when her kids were young and then she was done and my husband is the youngest of the family and he was running the operation so it just fell to us. At that time, we built the little house here and put the cooler in and added a freezer inside because we thought we would add all of our products. We’ve probably been running the Peach Tree Fruit Stand for a good 40 plus years. It is a fun deal.”

While a lot of time and effort is put into their frozen operation, selling the fresh peaches at the stand and sponsoring the Old Town Clovis Farmer’s Market Peach Party have allowed the Smittcamp’s to continue interacting with the community and educating them about fresh fruit.

The fruit stand itself, Linda said, is busy all the time.

“Our fruit stand here really has just gotten bigger and bigger,” Linda Smittcamp said. “We used to just have the fresh fruit and now with the frozen, we just are busy all the time, which is amazing to me because we are just tucked in here. We have a great following and we’ve had people come out here year after year. The kids that work for me love the stories they hear from the old timers who knew my father-in-law. It really is a great community, even with Clovis becoming a big town it still feels like a small town. It is nice to have that feeling out here.”

During the peach season, from May to October, 50-plus varieties of peaches are sold at the Peach Tree Fruit Stand. The most popular one, the Elberta peach, hits the stand in July.

In addition to selling fresh peaches and frozen fruit, the Peach Tree Fruit Stand also sells what Linda calls “added-value” products, which are frozen products that feature Wawona’s peaches. The most popular of these are the Peach Jewels, which are peach cookies. There is also a gluten-free version of the cookies, called Peach Gems. The Peach Tree Fruit Stand also has frozen peach pies, turnovers and cobblers.

How do you produce photo 10

Take the trek to Simonian Farms
Though not technically in Clovis, many Clovis residents take the drive south on Clovis Avenue to Simonian Farms, located on Clovis and Jensen.

Owner Dennis Simonian says practically everything is in season right now and most the fruit is ahead of schedule.

“We’ve been picking since the end of April, which is crazy,” Simonian said. “We have 35 to 40 varieties of peaches and we’re already on our fourth, when normally we would be on our second. Usually with the hot weather, one variety comes after another, but now some varieties are coming out the same week and we are basically into where we normally are in mid-June in mid-May. We’re at least 10 days to two weeks ahead of schedule. Boysenberries we normally don’t pick until Memorial Day weekend, but already a week before we were on our second pick. We were also on our third variety of blackberries, of which we only have five varieties. Strawberries are coming to an end soon, but the coolness has saved them. We only have a two to two and a half month season for strawberries.”

Ordinarily when fruit gets ripe early it doesn’t taste as sweet, Simonian said, but this year each fruit tastes superb.

“The taste is much better this year and the production is off the charts—probably due to them getting more water in the early spring this year,” Simonian said. “For boysenberries and blackberries, my goal is to get a box of berries per plant and this year, we’re getting one and a half boxes per plant and the quality is very good too. Normally, the fruit is not as sweet at the beginning of the season as it is in mid-summer, but these are. We did try some new varieties this year and I’m not sure if that is part of the reason. It is definitely not a bad crop year. I have almost no room in the store.”

In addition to stone fruit and berries, Simonian Farms still has late oranges for sale, as well as cherries. Soon, Simonian will also begin selling grapes—the flame variety should be on shelves the third week on June. While there are vegetables for sale right now that are supplied by other growers, the Simonian Farms varieties of corn, tomatoes and other fresh veggies will also be on the store shelves soon.

Simonian says it is not easy being a farmer in the Central Valley, especially with the recent drought and water concerns, but he keeps on doing it to bring people fresh quality produce.

“I’m hanging on to preserve agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley,” Simonian said. “People don’t realize that $1 of every $3 in the Valley is used for agriculture…I’ve done this since I was 12 years old and it is not an easy thing. Many times, I’ve wanted to quit, but farmers have a passion for what they do—we want people to have access to local food but sometimes it can be a struggle to educate people. People will call us in the winter to ask if we have grapes because the grocery store does, but what they don’t understand is when they buy grapes from Vons in January, they are from Chile and they aren’t as sweet, so come June, July, August and September, we have to coax them back here, explaining that now is the time to buy fresh grapes that taste good. It is all about educating the public about what is going on.”