OPN Connect Newsletter 96 · January 3, 2019

Wild River Fruit Farm Embraces Both The Risks and Rewards of Growing on a Flood Plain

Sustainable agriculture often uses natural techniques to remedy environmental challenges. Wild River fruit farm, outside of Marysville, California, has adapted to their location on a flood plain of the Yuba River and uses its natural patterns to benefit their production.

Wild River is a third generation farm, started in 1964 by Gordon Noland. “The farm produced only conventionally grown clingstone peaches that were sold to be canned at Del Monte. Beginning in the late 1970s, my family began transitioning into fresh fruit, beginning with Hayward green kiwifruit, a fruit that we believed would perform well given our climate and position in a flood plain,” said Travis Noland, the founder’s grandson.  

The ten-year flood cycle deposits rich, fertile soil, supplying plants with the desired nutrients. And organic kiwifruit was a good choice for the area, as their harvest comes in autumn, before the regular flooding.

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The Noland family’s dedication to environmental and social responsibility inspired them to make the leap to organic agriculture in 1992. Despite the many challenges of transitioning to organics, Wild River is now the largest organic kiwifruit grower in California, producing on approximately 400 acres. To support soil biodiversity they planted fruit trees within and around the kiwi vine canopy. This also protects the kiwifruit from bacterial diseases such as PSA, which decimated the New Zealand kiwi industry some years ago.

“Because we are protected from such threats, we do not require much application of copper and other materials that are thought to be detrimental to soil health,” Travis Noland said.

While Wild River also produces organic persimmons, pluots, plums and mandarin oranges, kiwifruit is the prize crop. Starting with the popular Hayward Green Kiwi they expanded growing to include the Chinensis species. This variety was new to California, so they first experimented using conventional methods, to understand the crop’s potential in the region. Once viable, they converted the vineyards to organic production.

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“We are indeed proud to be the first growers in the US to farm Chinensis kiwifruit varieties organically,” said Travis. “We began grafting our certified organic Hayward kiwifruit over to our Tropikiwi varieties about three years ago.” The Tropikiwi has a slightly sweeter, tropical taste and boasts a fuzz-free skin that is easier to eat than the Hayward variety Noland said.

Farming with the ten-year flood cycle comes with sacrifices and adjustments. Severe flooding has affected their mandarin orange groves, making them impossible to harvest. Operations at Wild River have also been tailored to accommodate nature’s flux of the Yuba.

“We have made extensive efforts to permanently lift our cold storage, packing and administrative operations up between four and eight feet off the ground to deal with our flood cycle,” said Noland.

The Noland’s have also recently completed a rebranding campaign to illustrate their sustainable farming, what they call The Wild River Way. The campaign’s new image, a cute and whimsical owl, is something of a farm mascot. They provide owl boxes for wild barn owls on the property, and the owls keep the detrimental pests from the vineyards. The new kiwifruit packaging, featuring their “owl friends,” can be found at retailers nationwide, including Whole Foods and Walmart.

Part of The Wild River Way is minimizing their distribution footprint whenever possible, primarily by consolidating varieties of fruit that are travelling long distance. Additionally, they service their local markets first, making their oldest standing customers a priority. The Noland family sees the value in educating the public on sustainability and giving back to the community. They continue to be involved with Healthy Futures, California Thursdays and to support the Food for Love Project with Sierra Harvest.

The appropriately named Wild River fruit farm is thriving with its organic kiwi crops and doing so by working with their natural surroundings. While studying the habitat, experimenting with growing methods and pursuing sustainable practices, they have emerged as one of California’s most successful organic kiwifruit growers.

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