Family Trees

When I was two years old, my parents bought their first house and planted a pine tree in the sideyard.  There is a picture of my mom holding me next to the tree, which was about her size.  By the time I was forty, the tree had grown to take up the entire yard.

Around the same time that pine tree was planted, a couple named Vive and Thule Schuhart were also planting trees — thousands of them.  They had purchased 77 acres of land in Winters and built a house on it, and decided to plant 15 acres of what was back then a brand new crop in California:  pistachios.  Thule was an airline pilot, and had seen pistachios growing in the deserts of the Middle East.  He was convinced they would be a better nut crop for California than almonds or walnuts due to their lower water consumption.

There were only a few hundred acres of pistachios in the Golden State back then, compared to several hundred thousand now growing.  There were no guidelines from UC Extension on how to grow them, no infrastructure for processing them, and no established buyers.   Vive and Thule basically figured it out as they went.  They built small scale machines to hull the skins off the nuts, sort them, and crack the nuts that didn’t open on their own.  For years they did all this work on their own, until the infrastructure caught up with them and they were able to have it done on a larger, more professional scale.

Vive sold the nuts from the orchard for years at the Davis Farmers Market, where she had a stand twice a week.  That was how she got to know Paul Holmes, who started selling vegetables there in the 1980s.   Vive was not happy when Thule decided in 2003 that he wanted to sell the property and move to Florida, but she was excited when we made an offer on the property.  The pistachio orchard was her baby, and she made us promise to keep taking care of it for her.

It’s been ten years since we took over caring for Vive’s pistachio orchard.  Like any crop, it has had its ups and downs.  Despite their age, the trees are healthy and strong.  But they are simply getting too big to harvest.  It’s time to cut down trees — maybe just some, to make room for the harvesting equipment.  But maybe all.

If the decision was based purely on economics, we would have already done it.  But there are emotions involved as well.  And one of those was concern about Vive’s reaction if she came back to visit her orchard and saw that we had cut down her “babies”.

Of course, trees don’t live forever.  My parents were very sad to have to cut “my” pine tree down six years ago when it became diseased.  But sometimes, trees outlive their “parents”.  We learned this week that Vive and Thule passed away recently — having  lived in good health well into their 90s.

Strangely, knowing this does not make our difficult decision vis a vis the pistachios any easier.  It makes it harder.   And so we will likely decide, once again, to wait and see how next year’s crop from Vive’s orchard fairs.

Thanks,

Pablito

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