Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Nuts About You...

Can you get any more romantic than this story???

The following text is about a couple who sell their pistachios at the Wednesday market downtown. So, if you can make it out there today, go buy some of their stuff. Support your local farmers!

(Written by Nan Mahon.)

Harry and Jane Dewey have heard all the jokes about operating a nut farm. But the producing and selling of pistachio, walnut, and almond nuts is what Harry feels he was born to do.

“My father planted almonds in 1912 and the family has been nuts ever since,” Harry jokes.

But the truth is that farming, producing a good, healthy food, and selling it directly to the consumer is what keeps Harry going at age 80. The back-breaking hard work and long hours is what he thrives on.

“I have felt all my life that I needed to produce something,” he said. “My legacy is what I have produced.”

Jane, at 79, works at his side. “At 80, he still thinks he needs to produce. So I have to follow along.”

Jane and Harry were both born and raised in Sacramento. Jane’s mother came to the valley as an infant, when her parents emigrated from Canada. But, Harry’s roots go back four generation to when his great-grandfather bought a piece of earth in Fair Oaks.

“The deed shows that the land was part of a Spanish land grant,” said Harry. “The legend is that the 182 acres were once lost over a poker table.”

Harry’s great-grandfather, Joseph Heintz, built a house on the land in 1875. The story goes that Jane’s grandfather built the porch on the house years later, a sign that the couple were predestined to be together.

“It was destiny,” Harry claims. “We met in high school advanced algebra class and I took her to my senior prom.”

While Jane was still in school, Harry graduated and went off to join the Naval Air during World War II. He was trained as a radio man and a gunner. It was two years before he saw Jane again. She was 19 and in college when he returned in 1947. “I came home and the magic was still there,” he said. “So we were married.”

Harry went to work on his father’s farm where the principal product was nuts, even though they also grew cherries and olives. The pay was low (he was working for his father) and the hours long. But, Harry found time to go to flight school, using his GI Bill to pay the tuition.
“I was bitten by the aviation bug when I was in the Navy,” he said. “I got my pilot’s license in 1948 but couldn’t afford to fly much.”

As has always been the way in their partnership, Jane eventually got her pilot’s license also. When their two children grew up and went out on their own in the 1960s, the couple began to have adventures, flying across America, Canada, and Mexico. In 1979, Harry became a volunteer for Angel Flight, a service that takes ambulatory patients with financial and medical needs to and from hospitals. He owns a 1963 single engine Beechcraft Debonair four seat plane.

“I try to fly one time or more a month for Angel Flight,” he said. “It very rewarding. A direct transaction. Just like marketing my pistachios.”

In the 1960s, the Dewey land in Fair Oaks was sold to developers. They kept the house built by Harry’s grandfather and their daughter, Eileen Thomas lives today. Recently remodeled, the house has its own history, with redwood beams that could be as old as 2,000 years.

Buying new land in Yolo, the Deweys began all over. Jane dug every hole with an auger and Harry planted every tree on his knees.

In the last few years, the Deweys have downsized by renting out all but 40 acres. Now they sell their nuts at several Farmer’s Markets all during the year. They offer both shelled and packaged as well as loose and in shells.

“Pistachio is a new industry in California,” said Jane. “Since the embargo on Iran, America has been exporting pistachio nuts to the world. The Central Valley is good for growing nuts because of its Mediterranean weather.”

The difficult life of the direct market gets the farmers up at 3am to load their product, packed in 25 pound boxes, and take it to the selling place. Preparation can take eight hours, driving in traffic is difficult, and selling is a four hour event. For the Deweys it is Sacramento’s Chavez Plaza on Wednesday, Sunrise Mall on Saturday, Eight and W on Sunday, and Oakland on Friday. During harvest, they will be absent from the market to work on the farm. Help, they say, is increasingly harder to get.

Some weekends, their daughter and her two sons give Jane and Harry time off to attend services at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Woodland. Jane, a part-time tour director for World Wide Country Tours, takes a trip five times a year. Often, Harry goes with her.

Still they do farming because its what they feel they are happiest doing. Harry says the best way to leave this life would be to out in the orchard surrounded by his trees.

“I will be pounding on Saint Peter’s gates with a package of pistachios in my hand,” Jane laughs.

Like other California farmers, the Deweys are concerned with the ongoing development of good agriculture land and the increasing importing of food.

“A country that cannot feed itself is not secure,” said Jane. “A farmer’s market lets people know where their food is coming from.”

Nan Mahon lives in Elk Grove and is the author of Junkyard Blues, a thrilling motorcycle ride through Texas, California and Mexico behind a Vietnam vet running from the drug Cartel.

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