Business has grown steadily at Bella Viva Orchards in Denair, California, since owner Victor Martino decided to transform his family’s fruit orchard into a dried fruit operation that sells at farmers markets in the Bay Area and to companies like Peeled Snacks, an all-natural snack company now partnering with American Farmland Trust.
When Martino took over the family business from his father in the early ‘80s, the orchard had been selling its fruit wholesale to large companies like Del Monte. “I didn’t like the idea of working all year and bringing the fruit of our labors down [to the canneries] and saying what will you give me for it?,” Martino says.
Once he started drying the 50-acre orchard’s many fruits—which include cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, persimmons, nectarines, plums, apples, grapes, figs, lemons and more—Martino discovered that customers really enjoyed the dried fruit, and his business grew. “People are looking for healthier food choices all the time and we offer an all-natural piece of fruit,” Martino says. “And more people are looking for a product that was grown regionally and for products produced in the United States.”
The climate in the Central Valley, where Martino and surrounding orchardists grow their fruit, is the “best in the world,” he says. But only 100 miles from the Bay Area, the threat from development pressure looms. That’s one of the reasons Martino is happy to be growing for Peeled Snacks, a socially conscious company who recently began donating a percentage of their proceeds to support the work of American Farmland Trust.
“We especially like to deal with people who are passionate about what they do and interested in supporting California-grown and American-grown produce,” Martino says.
Story by KIRSTEN FERGUSON
Published in American Farmland, Spring 2010