Getting to Know Etheridge Farms

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From: Misty Dawn Spicer, SavRaw Intern

Recently, I had a chance to sit and chat with Gene Etheridge of Etheridge Organics and I must say, it was indeed a sweet treat. Genes fruit trees fill our Savraw farm boxes each week with everything from lemons to the incoming nectarines and apricots!

Gene isn’t quite the Q&A sort of guy. With him, a conversation happens. Farming is not so much about staying on top of things, it’s about digging deeper, getting to know the root of a subject matter. After I left Gene, I felt more aware, more in rhythm with my decision to eat local organic food, and more connected to the bigger picture surrounding our choices.

We began our chat by talking about Genes rich history with watching things grow. He was an educator and high school principal for years before he and his wife decided to settle down on a farm to raise a family. Together they raised their 8 children on the farm and quite a few of them are still connected to the fruits of that labor today.

Gene’s son has even followed the Etheridge path to the farm after he and his wife had their first child recently. His brother was just upstairs while we spoke and he received phone calls from daughter and his wife while we were talking. He’d smile when the phone rang and ask me very kindly to excuse him. It was pretty clear once I asked the question “Does your family farm?” that Gene Etheridge is a family man. And he’s definitely a fruit man.

I asked him about his favorite fruits and he began to light up speaking about the many varieties of apples and apricots. “Some make a better jam. Some dry well. It depends. Some apples make a perfect pie using no sugar at all. Get to know your varietals and you’ll have a lot of fun.” He held imaginary apricots in the air, describing each shape. He taught me a lot in only a few moments about one fruit. I could only imagine what taking a class with this guy would be like.

His years in education and have paid off in farming, leading him to currently participate in many aspects of the industry including his current work with the Clinton Foundation. http://www.clintonfoundation.org/main/our-work/by-initiative/alliance-for-a-healthier-generation/programs/healthy-schools-program.html

The lively farmer was nominated to participate with Clinton’s organization due to his “extra credit” work as a principal and teacher. Gene spent years filling his trunk with fresh food for distribution to underserved kids each week. He has spent much of his life connecting youth to unprocessed foods.

According to Gene, though he himself farms organically, he is not necessarily pushing for that agenda right away for America. A true lifelong learner, Gene believes that any connection to whole foods, is good when we see how many youth don’t have access to it. As people are taking more time to learn about the effects of eating GMO’s and processed foods, he feels strongly that folks will naturally float over to the organic side. Learning, to Gene is not an overnight process, much like his choice to be organic.

For years, Etheridge Farms was conventional, until, after the birth of his first son in 1979, Gene allowed another farmer to “take care” of some spotty leaves on his trees while he was out of town. Gene returned to find his trees caution taped off, and sprayed with harsh chemicals while his newborn baby was resting in their home close by. Gene was largely affected by this juxtaposition of seeing such a healthy newborn so close to such toxic pesticides. It gave him food for thought and in that moment of realization, he determined to never again use chemicals. The farm began the process of going organic from that point on.

I asked gene about how he felt about his role in society and he said, “Maybe a superhero,” and chuckles. I’m not laughing at all. Gene is a superhero of sorts. He has dedicated his entire life to bring growth to people, whether it be through education or farming, and now his work in developing both with the Clinton Foundation, this is one multidimensional guy.

“I just like to watch things grow,” he smiled, “whether it’s kids or a tree. I like to watch something succeed.”

He certainly like watching my eyes grow big when I said “yes” to taking some fresh squeezed pomegranate juice for the ride home.

If you’re ever near  Dinuba, CA, Gene invites you to pass by Etheridge Farms. Until then, keep enjoying the fruits of Ethridge Farm labor with Savraw! On our website you can even feel free to add on Ethridge figs, almonds, raisins or a great big box of oranges to juice or eat straight away. I can attest that they are amazing, he filled up my hands with a few to go with the juice. What a treat.

-Misty Dawn Spicer

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