Farm celebrates nine decades of apricots

B&R Farms hosting U-Pick event

READY TO PICK Mari Rossi inspects the Blenheim apricots that are ready for harvesting at B&R Farms in Hollister. The 90-year-old farm is holding a U-Pick event on July 13. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

Blenheim apricots, when compared to a typical variety, have a tangy-sweet taste that stands above all others.

But the sweet, delicate fruit is disappearing, and has made it to Slow Food USA’s Endangered Foods list. The Blenheim has a very thin skin and bruises easily, making it impossible to ship without being dried.

Chances are high that apricot lovers have tried the variety in dried form. However, chances are very slim those same fans have actually picked their own Blenheim apricot fresh off the tree.

That will change soon.

To celebrate its 90th anniversary, Hollister-based B&R Farms, California’s largest grower of Blenheim apricots, will hold a U-Pick event on July 13 from 9am to 3pm.

The 150-acre family-owned orchard is now run by the third generation, Jim Rossi and his wife Mari, along with their son Brian. Two other sons, Phillip and Scott, also pitch in at the farm.

The operation was started on July 4, 1929 by Jim’s grandparents, Frank and Mary Bozzo, who purchased a plot of land on what is now 5280 Fairview Road just outside of Hollister city limits. The farm originally grew prunes and walnuts, with a small plot of apricots. However, the Blenheim apricots soon took over more than 40 acres under the stewardship of Jim’s parents, Emil and Elsie Rossi.

There was a time in the 1980s when the farm was growing tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli and other vegetables, but eventually it returned to its roots and focused exclusively on the Blenheim apricot.

FIELD OF ORANGE  Recently harvested Blenheim apricots dry in the sun. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

Mari Rossi gets goosebumps just thinking about the family’s legacy.

“Ninety years in business is absolutely heartwarming and overwhelming for our immediate family,” she said.

Rossi praised the farm’s team, saying they consider them all part of the family.

“Without them, we would not be able to do this,” she said.

Rossi said the soil and climate in San Benito County is the perfect combination for growing the Blenheim variety.

“With the coastal mornings and warm afternoons, the Blenheim really likes that,” she said.

Orchard management and all dried apricot processing is performed by the Rossi family and staff at the Hollister facility. The farm employs 25 people annually, with that number jumping up to 50 during peak season.

Two orchards have recently been planted, bringing the number of trees on the property to an innumerable count. An orchard planted seven years ago is producing apricots, while the youngest is a year old and not yet producing.

The trees themselves can produce for roughly 70 years, depending on how well they are taken care of, Rossi said.

She added that all trees are watered through micro-sprinklers, saying the family is grateful to have wells on its property. Had that not been the case, the drought earlier this decade “would have been devastating,” she noted.

Through its online store, B&R Farms ships its products not only across the nation but internationally as well. It also has a physical store on its property that sells its various products, such as dried apricots, chocolate covered apricots, preserves, spreads, toppings, artisan apricot sorbet, apricot ice cream sandwiches and fresh frozen apricot puree.

New products introduced this year, such as apricot ginger teriyaki, apricot pinot grigio wine spread and dark chocolate apricot bites, keep the customers coming back.

“It’s all about the flavor,” she said. “You can’t find the flavor and the taste like the Blenheim apricot gives.”

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