Hey Mr. Tangerine Man...
Meet Jim Churchill, one of my favorite farmers...
When I was a little boy, when I would go to school I didn’t have Twinkies or bags of chips as my snacks. In my pockets you would find little oranges—clementines from Valencia, the citrus capital of the world. They were the perfect portable snack for a very active boy like me…cheap and easy to carry around so they were always in my pockets (I am not sure how that worked for my mom and the laundry!)
So, the first time I traveled to California with my family it may not surprise you that we didn’t go to Disney or the beach. We went to meet The Tangerine Man, Jim Churchill, who has a 17-acre citrus grove in the Ojai Valley. On these beautiful rolling hills, he grows some of the best tangerines in the world.
Jim started working in the orchard with his dad in 1979, at a time when they were growing Bacon Avocados, but the trees got infected with root rot. One day Jim was working at a nearby packing center sorting fruit when he came across a fruit he had never seen before…a Pixie Tangerine. He peeled it, took a bite, and he was never the same! It was a life changing fruit! Out went the diseased trees and in went 80 Pixie trees that would be the beginning of a life dedicated to delicious citrus.
Now Jim and his business partner Lisa Brenneis have 1000 Pixie trees, and they also grow my other favorite citrus, the Kishu. It’s a tiny tiny heirloom mandarin that’s totally seedless, and to me it’s like no other citrus in the world. I can eat 10 of them in a row, and still want to have another one. They’re perfect.
Jim and Lisa could have made a fortune selling their land years ago, but they keep it up and work the soil and continue to grow these incredible little fruits, dedicating their lives to this craft of growing sweetness. Yes, the Ojai weather helps, the heat of the blazing sun during the day and the cool night breezes coming in off the ocean bring sweetness and acid to their fruit in a perfect balance. But Jim is an citrus whisperer! I am always happy to know farmers who are so dedicated to their craft like Jim and Lisa.
Ever since that first trip to Ojai years ago I order from Jim and Lisa every winter (I have to be sure to order the Kishus very, very early the year before because they sell out fast!). When they show up on our doorstep in wintertime it’s like another Christmas. I try to eat them slowly to make sure they last…but it’s hard when they’re so small and so amazing!
I think the Kishus are already sold out but make a note for next year. It will be worth it…I promise!
I have had Kishu for years. We are fortunate to live in N. California where there are amazing farmers. Thank you for all you do.
Correction to the word - kishu-