Partner Profile : Meet Buck Brand Organic Citrus

Partner Profile : Meet Buck Brand Organic Citrus

There are two origin stories behind Buck Brand Organic Citrus. One story is that a young buck discovered a small piece of land in Porterville, a city near the Tule River in San Joaquin Valley. He met a lost doe and love was in the air. The pair settled down and planted citrus trees known far and wide for their unique flavors. 

The second story is that Lisle and Mary Lou Babcock bought a plot of land on a perfect hillside in Porterville in the late 1980s. They were guided by the thrill of great flavor, not quantity, and over the years developed a cult-like following for their specialty citrus.

Both stories lead to the same place: a 250-acre farm that grows some of the most interesting varieties of citrus we’ve ever seen. We’re excited to partner with Buck Brand Organic Citrus to bring you eye-popping citrus varieties like caviar limes, Satsuma mandarins, Lou Lou navel oranges, and more. 

An heirloom with a story

Frog Hollow Farm looks for partner farms that share our commitment to organic production and our love of great flavor. And Buck Brand has a great story with roots that go back more than 140 years in California agricultural history. 

In the 1870s, suffragist and horticulturist Eliza Tibbets was living in Riverside, CA. She wrote to the USDA in Washington, D.C., and requested two grafts of the super-sweet Brazilian navel orange tree that they had received. The USDA obliged and Tibbets planted the grafts, which flourished in Riverside. Word spread about Tibbet’s exceptional navel oranges, which helped put California on the citrus-growing map. 

In the 1880s, cuttings from Tibbets’ navel orange trees were planted on the Porterville land that Babcock would buy nearly 100 years later. When Babcock started farming here, the land was covered with these old-growth heirloom navel trees. Buck Brand tells us that all California navels are related to Tibbets’ original grafts, but only a few of the original, old-stock trees remain. Market trends have shifted over the years, and farmers have planted larger, less flavorful varieties. Weather, drought and age also played a role in the heirloom’s demise. 

So, as you can see, a Buck Brand heirloom navel orange is a little piece of California history. And a rare treat.

Experimenting with varieties

But Babcock was never interested in producing vast quantities of the same fruit. He wanted to experiment! Today, the ranch grows 40 varieties, inspired by the Babcock’s love of tasting and experimentation. Babcock grafted one of the varietals, the Lou Lou navel orange, off the original old-stock trees that trace their lineage to Tibbets’ early trees. Babcock named the Lou Lou navel orange after his wife – and how sweet it is! Lou Lou navel oranges generally have higher brix levels and they’re ready for harvest a few weeks earlier than Buck Brand’s Heirloom Navel or Navel Oranges. We look forward to the arrival of these incredible Navels every year. 

Another popular Buck Brand variety is the TDE – temple, dance, and encore – also known as the triple-crossed mandarin. We’re told that Buck Brand followers rave about this varietal, which is not commercially grown because the heavy thorns on the trees can damage the fruit.  We are excited to share this delicious variety with you. 

A special microclimate

Buck Brand’s hillside location is known for providing a unique microclimate that is ideal for growing citrus. Many citrus farmers use wind machines during the colder months to keep the fruit warm. But Buck Brand doesn’t require wind machines because of where it’s situated. It’s a little warmer there throughout the year.

And Buck Brand treats their fruit with care, just like we do. All of their citrus varieties are harvested by hand. And some varieties – like the TDE mandarins – are harvested into smaller containers because they’re very special and delicate. 

Know where to look 

Buck Brand doesn’t sell direct to consumers, they only sell to partners, like Frog Hollow Farm. That means you may need to go “Buck huntin’” to find their specialty and heirloom varieties unless you find them in our CSA boxes or via delivered nationwide.  We are excited for you to try some new flavors this season! 

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