Maywood Farms Owner Bob Steinacher was first introduced to ag working in his family’s one-acre hobby apricot orchard as a child growing up in the Santa Clara Valley.
“My father came home from work from his sales job and spent evenings and weekends working in the orchard,” Steinacher recalls. “And that's where I learned to love growing things.”
Bob Steinacher, Owner, Maywood Farms
An interest in bugs led Steinacher to pursue a degree in entomology at UC Davis in the mid-1970s. He spent his college summers working for researchers studying predator-prey relationships in cotton farming—but in his heart, he knew he wanted to be a farmer. So after college, he landed a job managing a high school farm of about 75 acres in Shafter, California, a city just outside Bakersfield.
“That was a really great experience for me to really learn about different cropping systems,” he says. “I also took care of all the animals. Basically, I ran the farm and did all the work out in the field. We were growing row crops and alfalfa and pasture—I mean, we did it all.”
“My father came home from work from his sales job and spent evenings and weekends working in the orchard. And that's where I learned to love growing things.” - Bob Steinacher
After about a year, Steinacher moved up to Chico, a place he’d fallen in love with after visiting friends in the area. “I first worked at a restaurant because I couldn't find a job in ag,” he recalls. “And then eventually I managed 75 acres of almonds for a year and then moved on to a big farm and was the lead worker there for a year.”
At that point, Steinacher concluded he’d acquired sufficient farming knowledge to embark on his own venture. “My family had said that once I had enough experience that they would back me financially in buying land, developing some land,” he says. “It was really awesome. I mean, I couldn't have done it any other way. That was in ’81. Interest rates were sky-high—15 percent or even more.”
Steinacher ended up finding a 265-acre property in Corning, California, about 50 miles south of Redding and promptly named it Maywood Farms (because the land had been part of the historic Maywood Fruit Colony).
Steinacher spent his college summers working for researchers studying predator-prey relationships in cotton farming—but in his heart, he knew he wanted to be a farmer.
“I started looking at the soils, and there's some pretty tough soils here,” Steinacher recalls. “And a friend of a friend suggested, ‘Well, why don't you look at growing figs?’ He owned some land, and he was going to possibly do that. Plus, the farm advisor at the time was promoting figs as an alternative crop here in Tehama County.”
So Steinacher decided to give figs a go and planted about 135 acres of Black Missions, initially intending to grow the fruit for the dried market to avoid the high costs of labor involved in fresh figs. (Due to their delicate nature, fresh figs require hand harvesting, while dried figs can be machine harvested.)
Box of organic Black Mission figs
In his early seasons, before he had enough of a yield to sell to the dried market, one of Steinacher’s farmer neighbors suggested he speak to his broker about selling the small crop as a fresh offering.
“I started looking at the soils, and there's some pretty tough soils here. And a friend of a friend suggested, ‘Well, why don't you look at growing figs?’" - Bob Steinacher
“And so I think it was in our third year that we started picking the fruit for fresh,” says Steinacher. “And people were just absolutely saying, ‘Oh, you have wonderful figs!’ The broker was selling our fruit on consignment to mostly East Coast customers. But over time, we found that he was playing games with us and telling us, ‘Oh yeah, the market is terrible.’ And he would pocket the difference and still take his commission.”
Steinacher managed to find a new broker out of Chico, who introduced him to the Bay Area market, including the famed “Green Grocer”—Joe Carcione.
Organic Black Mission, Brown Turkey, Kadota, and Adriatic figs
“Joe was a kind of a legend in the Bay Area,” Steinacher recalls. “He was well-known as a specialty fruit and vegetable guy. And he told me, ‘Hey, you've got the best figs I've ever had. Whatever you're doing, keep doing it!’”
Steinacher eventually began selling to his customers directly, dropping his Chico broker despite the man’s threats to ruin his reputation if he did so. (“This was the old school way of doing produce,” Steinacher explains. “You take everything you can and cheat the farmer and pocket whatever you can out of the deal.”)
“Joe [Carcione] was a kind of a legend in the Bay Area. He was well-known as a specialty fruit and vegetable guy. And he told me, ‘Hey, you've got the best figs I've ever had. Whatever you're doing, keep doing it!’” - Bob Steinacher
In 1988, Steinacher decided to transition 25 of his acres to organic to meet the burgeoning customer demand for organic options—plus he already grew his figs with limited pest intervention. “One reason I grew figs in the first place is they're easy to grow without pesticides,” he says. “I didn't want to get involved with pesticide resistance and continuously having to spray a crop.”
Maywood Farms Black Mission fig trees
Due to ever-increasing demand, Steinacher eventually converted all of his farm’s acreage to organic. Over the years, he’s also expanded his varieties beyond Black Missions to include Brown Turkeys, Kadotas, and Adriatics.
Maywood Farms packs all its fresh figs on-site (and always has), and Steinacher is borderline obsessive about his cooling protocol. “We cool them down as quickly as possible and store them at the proper temperatures,” he says. “The cold storage we run at 31 degrees and people go, ‘Oh they’re gonna freeze.’ No, they don't. The figs have so much sugar they don't freeze until 27 degrees. They’re like berries. You have to keep them cold. You break that cold chain, and they'll break down. Even if you get 'em cold again, they'll break down.”
Maywood Farms has an exceptionally loyal customer base, the majority of which services the West Coast. Steinacher says Whole Foods is his biggest customer by far, and other customers include Raley’s, Organically Grown Company, Earl’s, Veritable Vegetable, Charlie’s, Co-op Partners Warehouse, and Monterey Market.
“One reason I grew figs in the first place is they're easy to grow without pesticides. I didn't want to get involved with pesticide resistance and continuously having to spray a crop.” - Bob Steinacher
As a major testament to their quality, Maywood Farms figs are featured every year on the menu of Alice Waters’ world-renowned restaurant Chez Panisse. “They swear by our figs,” Steinacher says proudly. “They call me up to find out when we're going to have them in the store so they can get them.”
While Maywood’s fruit availability is subject to change due to weather fluctuations, Steinacher estimates this year’s harvest will begin in early August and continue through early November.
“I start getting calls in late May about our start date because our customers’ customer base is asking them, ‘Hey, when's Maywood Farms coming in?’” says Steinacher. “It’s really a nice feeling. We have a really, really great reputation as far as our quality.”