Friday, November 16, 2012

The Business of Growing Apricots

My father, Ashley Chapman, standing in the apricot lot where he built our first house.

It has turned out to be a big challenge to write a book about the apricot business in the Santa Clara Valley, while at the same time trying to maintain another writing project, i.e. my regular Robin Chapman News blog. The good news: I'm on the home stretch of the book.

An interesting thing has happened during the course of the work: I started the book as an exercise in nostalgia. I have come to realize I am writing about a business. People didn't have apricot orchards because they thought fruit trees were fun for kids like me! What a revelation. 

I had a talk this week with John Vojvoda, the son of the man who used to spray our apricot trees when I was very small. Nick Vojvoda's family had ten acres of apricot trees and three acres of cherries over on Springer Road, just a bike ride away from our house.

But it was when I was too young to ride a bike. The Vojvoda's sold out in 1953 because Nick's father John, a second generation grower was ready to retire. Nick found he could make more money spraying other people's trees than growing apricots.

In the world of commerce, the demand of the markets rule a business. Demand gradually grew higher for subdivisions than for fruit in the Santa Clara Valley. Growers began to sell off land in what had always been a business ruled by very hard work.

When land values got as high as $25,000 per acre, the growers figured they had hit the top of the market. They sold, laughed into their hats at the city slickers whom they sold to, kept an acre or two for their families and sat back to--finally--enjoy the fat of the land.

How could they know that land would go as high as $1M for a quarter acre in this region in the years ahead? No one can see into the future.

Talking with John Vojvoda was fun, since he could go to his father's records and find the last date on which he sprayed our trees: February 1992.  My father was 73 years old then and still in good shape. He was so thrifty, John said, he didn't want to pay for two sprays a year on his trees! He thought one would do. That was my father--very thrifty. Turns out John was right and all our trees died in the years that followed.  

All but one. And that one Mom and Dad planted out by the back gate just a few years before they went to apricot heaven. I had a bumper crop on it last summer and made my first jam from that tree. Remind me to call John back, and ask to get on his spraying schedule! 

My first batch of apricot jam from my very own Blenheim tree, July 2012.

Add to 
Google Reader or Homepage
Subscribe to Robin Chapman News

1 comment:

Janet Grunst said...

I'm looking forward to your apricot book, Robin.

I think I mentioned earlier that my mom first visited Los Altos either in the 1920's or early 1930's as friends had an apricot orchard on what we know as San Antonio Road. I don't know when they sold it, but as you well know, it would have been worth a fortune in later years.