Sharing ‘Core’ Values with Cuyama Apple Orchards

Sharing ‘Core’ Values with Cuyama Apple Orchards

The climate and soils in Brentwood are perfect for growing what we grow. Apricots, cherries, peaches, nectarines, plums, pluots, pears, olives, and more. Each year we think about planting additional varieties that can extend our season all year round. For example, our quince, pomegranate, and persimmons are taking off right now. And we’ve planted other late-blooming varieties like pluerries (plum + cherry) and feijoas! As these trees grow to produce fruit in a few years, we will partner with our friends at other organic farms to continue bringing you the best of the season. These like-minded farms provide us with delicious fruit year round, which help sustain their farms and ours through our quieter winter season. We choose our partner farms for their aligned values and practices. And they’re the top-quality producers of the varieties they grow, given each farm’s unique microclimate and dedicated team of experts.

Cuyama Orchards is one such partnership, more than ten years in the making. It’s a family operation, started in 1992 by Howard and Jean Albano and now run by their son, Byron.

“My dad was a farm boy from Idaho and he came down to Southern California and met my mom. She was from Kansas,” says Byron over the phone. He has a brief moment to talk about our partnership as he’s waiting on a truck to move some of his apples into cold storage. Byron’s favorite part about operating the farm is getting to be so connected to the flow of things. “It’s being able to have my hands in producing something real. Literally seeing the fruits of your labors and the whole team that works for it. We’re really proud of how much we accomplish and produce as an independent, small, team-oriented operation.”

When Howard Albano converted what was an old hay farm into the sprawling apple orchards the land is today, he entered the apple market at a really difficult time. “1997 - 2004 apple markets drove us to be independent. That’s when I joined,” says Byron. “For all those years, really since we came into production, my parents would grow the apples and I would handle and market them. The markets were really being decimated though. Part of our farm’s story is that at the time we started in the 90s, there were thousands of other acres of apples in the Cuyama Valley. Maybe three thousand. All of that went out. We were the only ones left with 120 acres. We managed to survive by selling through relationships with stores that I had built up over the years. It’s survival. And we’re still surviving.”

Developing direct relationships within our food systems—like Frog Hollow does with our online & CSA customers, with our partner growers, and with farmers market-goers—keeps small, family-run farms going.

“We put a lot of focus on nutrition, soil health, and composting,” says Byron. “There’s a lot that goes into nutrient management that we don’t talk about. Pruning techniques, thinning the trees—all those things are geared towards trying to produce efficiently and produce large fruit.”

Byron’s kids Eric and Gregory thinning apples w/ their crew boss Augustin

“It’s difficult, though. People want big apples. Retailers want big apples. And the reality is, the tree produces what it produces. You can miss a lot of great stuff focused on size alone. Why can’t you get a lot of high quality fruit anymore? When size and appearance supersedes the measure of quality that the consumer wants, you get durable grapes and durable stone fruit and durable apples, you name it. But what the consumer really wants is a good tasting piece of fruit. There’s gotta be more food awareness. Everyone’s talking about food waste, and talking about this is how we really get straight to the heart of that conversation.”

Our grower partnerships not only get you the benefit of great, organic produce, grown with care, they’re an important part of a mutually beneficial food ecosystem where farmers support other farmers. We’re glad to help Cuyama Orchards bring the best of California apples to our community. “Having a relationship with somebody that can help you make that connection to the marketplace is the most critical thing,” says Byron. “That’s why we like partnering with Frog Hollow Farm. Making the connection directly with the consumer is so important. That’s the thing that’s gonna keep us alive."

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