Murray Family Farms

 

family background / Steven has helped change Murray Family Farms’ business, adding farm markets and agritourism at locations in California’s Southern San Joaquin Valley. He graduated from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and is the son of Steve and Vickie Murray.
age / 32
crops / Cherries, diversified crops
business / Murray Family Farms

How did you get your start?


As a baby, my parents would take me to farmers markets and I would go around trying to get rare and exotic fruits from neighbors, and that was my introduction to fruit growing — when I was about 4 years old.

Since I’ve graduated from school, I’ve really been pushing the direct-to-farm market aspect of the business. I’ve tripled the farm market sales over the past three years, where sales were relatively flat.

A lot of that new growth has been by investigating very unusual crops, then planting them to help attract people to our stand. Taking this approach, we’ve had continuous growth, and I see it growing into the future.

What is your direct sales strategy?


One of the big things when selling to a packing house, which a majority of our fruit goes to, we aren’t paid immediately. We wait until we receive payments from the packing house.

With direct farm marketing and farm markets, it’s all cash. I’m able to cash-flow the business so as soon as I have people picking commercial quantities of fruit; I can get cash into the business that same day from the markets.

We’ve been able to pay for things as the crop comes in as opposed to relying only on a harvest loan and waiting for packouts. It puts us in a much safer place.

How do you manage your farm market decisions?


One of the big things to understand is it’s a very different system. Your goal is to have the fruit available as long as possible. So instead of having one big pick, where you handle as much of the crop as possible.

I want to space the crop out to provide for as many weeks at the market and stretch it out. Each week, I’m going to want to make the same amount of income.

Planting early, mid-season and late-season varieties is part of the process. The drawback is we also have much higher labor costs then traditional farms.

What challenges come from such a southern location?


We’re growing cherries across the street from citrus. It’s one of the only farms where you’re going to see oranges and cherries side by side.

When our farm started, the county told our family that cherries couldn’t grow in Kern County. We were one of the first farms in the county to grow cherries as a commercial crop.

As far as chilling for the cherries, we get about four-fifths of what we need from climate. So we use a lot of cultural practices to increase our chilling, such as overhead cooling in the winter; we paint our trees and follow some in-house programs that help us get more chilling then other blocks in the neighborhood.

If it weren’t for all of these practices, especially in low-chill seasons, growing all of our crops may not be feasible. Last summer was one of our hottest, with 78 days above 100 degrees. Even though we have that much heat, we’ve found ways to grow cherries.

Besides climate, what other challenges are top of mind?


Labor continues to be a really tough issue and we’re fortunate to have large populations around us to pull from.

So even though our farm is in a rural area, at the intersection of two dirt roads, we still have Bakersfield with about 400,000 and Arvin with 16,000 people, so we are able to get crews in for cherry harvest. However, as time goes on I see it getting harder and harder.

What is your advice to young growers?


If you’re a new grower entering the industry, I’d recommend finding a niche in the market that you can get into.

There’s also a lot of farmers who are baby boomers and many of them are looking to retire. This is a good time to find openings in the near future than there has been before, because there isn’t a bunch of people replacing them all.

– TJ Mullinax

By TJ Mullinax|June 28th, 2018|ApplesCherriesGrapesJuly 2018 IssueLaborMarketingTJ MullinaxVideosYoung Grower

Value-added becomes Murray Family Farms focus

by Murray Family Farms on February 15, 2013 in ArticlesMedia

Kern Business Journal – February/March 2013
by Steve Murray

 

Steve and Vickie Murray

Murray Family Farms has found its niche in value-added agriculture, prospering in a segment of the tough agricultural industry.

Steve and Vickie Murray have grown their enterprise into a premier Kern County agricultural entertainment destination. Value-added activities, such as U-pick, farmers’ markets, freeway fruit stands, bakery, restaurant, preserves, and on-the-farm activities generate more dollars per acre than conventional agriculture.

That added income is offset by increased inefficiencies and the need for more capital, management and labor.

By nature, the products that the farm grows are agricultural commodities. Murray Family Farms takes these raw commodities and increases their intrinsic value. This is done through branding, direct sales, processed foods, agricultural tourism and education.

What started out as a diversity strategy to offset the volatile risks of growing cherries has become 50 percent of the company’s annual revenue. Cherry harvest income comes one day per year from the packing house. Value-added income meets the cash flow needs for the rest of the year.

 

Murray Family Farms employee Teresa Hurtado sorts Royal Rainier cherries before packing at their General Beale Road facility. Photo by: Alex Horvath / The Californian

The Big Red Barn at Hwy 58 and General Beale and the Old Tomato Weigh Station at Interstate 5 and Copus Road are the company’s two agricultural entertainment venues.

Murray Family Farms continues to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars building pole barns to provide shade, improving parking, drilling new domestic wells, installing a bounce pillow, hay wagons, corn cannons, duck races, children’s attractions, landscaping, changing permanent crops, and planting seasonal row crops.

Picking local fruit that is fresh and ripe increases value. There is no comparison to the dry, flavorless fruit found at big box retail stores. Customers are willing to pay more for fresh, ripe local fruit.

Customers come to the farm markets year round to shop for produce, prepared foods, preserves, pies and fruit smoothies. Children flock to the petting zoo, wagon rides, cattle train, mazes, picnic area, and the opportunity to pick and eat fruit.

“Fond memories grown ripe here” is Murray Family Farm’s official slogan. In addition, the Murray family and their employees spread out, traveling to 28 certified farmers’ markets during the peak cherry and berry season.

A paradigm shift has been detected, where families with young children are taking the time to connect with the food that they eat. Kern County leads the nation in obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, and other lifestyle diseases. These illnesses can be prevented through outdoor activities and the consumption of more fresh produce. More than 10,000 school children visit the farm annually, learning the value of eating more flavor- and color-rich fruits and vegetables.

The benefits to the local economy are significant. Located in the Lamont-Arvin area, Murray Family Farms provides year-round employment to an economically disadvantaged region. Dollars are collected from export and domestic customers, coastal cities and interstate travelers, and paid to the local labor force.

Value added agriculture provides 10 times more employment per acre than conventional agriculture. While most agricultural employment is seasonal and repetitive in nature, these full- and part-time jobs offer training in customer service, use of cash registers, public speaking, entertainment, education, crowd control, clerical, culinary arts, and intensive dynamic horticulture.

Value added agriculture for the Murrays started back in 1989 with the trade of their home in Bakersfield for a farm house and vineyard, north and east of Arvin. Some of the grapes were removed to plant cherries. The cherries were popular at farmers’ markets and received higher prices.

The joy of working with the public at certified farmers’ markets led to the establishment of the fruit stands and farms. Surplus fruit falling on the ground led to U-pick, more farmers’ markets, the bakery and the restaurant to capture value, producing pies and preserves.

Slow October sales led to pumpkins and the October Fun Fest. The success of the October festival led to other festivals – Bluegrass and cherry, Easter egg hunt, and November pole barn movie nights. Permits are now being finalized to add beer and wine tasting, and install Chevron gas pumps at the farm.

Salas Recognizes Murray Family Farms as Small Business of the Year

by Murray Family Farms on June 24, 2014 in MediaPress Releases

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 16, 2014
Contact: Jillian Rice (661) 335-0302

Salas Recognizes Murray Family Farms as Small Business of the Year

32nd Assembly District Small Business of the Year

SACRAMENTO – Assemblymember Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) today honored Murray Family Farms as Small Business of the Year for the 32nd Assembly District.

“Murray Family Farms is the embodiment of a business that embraces the community by creating a family-oriented business that values people and great produce,” Salas said in a statement. “The Murray family has done more than just sell produce – they have created a fun and safe destination for the community to learn about agriculture. I am proud to honor Steve and Vickie Murray from Murray Family Farms as the 32nd Assembly District Small Business of the Year.”

Steve and Vickie Murray have grown their enterprise, entertaining tens of thousands of children and adults each year. Murray Family Farms features an animal garden, wagon rides, bounce pillow, cattle train, mazes, pumpkin patch, picnic area, butterfly house, U-Pick, 28 farmers markets, the two freeway fruit stands, bakery, restaurant, and preserves. On-the-farm fun activities connect the community with the food they eat. Value-added agriculture provides 10 times more employment, distributing dollars collected from export and domestic customers, coastal cities and interstate travelers paid to the local labor force.

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Assemblymember Salas represents part of the City of Bakersfield, the cities of Arvin, Avenal, Corcoran, Delano, Hanford, Lemoore, McFarland, Shafter, Wasco, and the communities of Armona, Buttonwillow, Home Garden, Kettleman City, Lamont, Lost Hills, Stratford and Weedpatch.

Cherry Festival worth a pit stop

by Murray Family Farms on May 9, 2013 in ArticlesMedia

The Bakersfield Californian – May 8, 2013
By Stefani Dias

With so much going on this weekend, you really need to cherry-pick your activities. Luckily, Murray Family Farms makes that easy with its second annual Cherry Festival.

“(Cherries are) something that everybody is drawn to,” said Abel Varela, produce supervisor at Murray Family Farms. “You say cherry and people say, ‘Where are they?’ … Cherries remind them of their childhood.”

On Saturday, prepare to celebrate all things cherry with a variety of fruit and sweets, a seed-spitting contest, entertainment and more. The only thing you won’t be able to do is pick your own cherries — but they’re working on it.

“On our property, we bring cherries in (from our other location on Copus Road). We’re growing trees to pick. It’ll be about another year to mature. They’re 2-year-old trees; it’s a minimum three years (to maturity).”

Like those trees, the festival is continuing to grow, with organizers moving it up to reflect the season.

“Cherries came into season about a week and half ago. Last year we had it later, in late May. We want to have it earlier (this year), bring in more people. We wanted to get people excited about cherries.”

Even later in the season, last year’s turnout was impressive, according to media coordinator Jennifer Smith, who counted 1,000 attendees.

A variety of cherries will be offered for tastings, including Minnie Royal, Royal Rainier, Flavor Giant, Champagne Coral, Brooks, Tulare, Sequoia and GG1.

To further tempt visitors, the Cal-Okie Kitchen will serve a sweet selection of cherry dishes: brownies, pies, cobblers, muffins, scones, cake, nut fudge, ice cream and cherry lemonade smoothies.

The bounty extends to the entertainment with employee Andrew Carrillo performing acoustic folk music as Andrew’s Royalties. Murray tour guide and resident artist Mimi Ramos will also perform along with her Latin dance group.

Regular farm fun will also be in full effect with the giant jumping pillow, hayrides, kids’ play area and petting zoo.

If you want to help provide the entertainment, join the seed-spitting contest, which was a popular show last year.

“The winner of last year’s (contest) spit 18 to 20 feet,” Varela said. “We had a 12-foot marker and they spit way over that.”

Almond, fruit growers count losses following weekend storm

by Murray Family Farms on May 9, 2013 in ArticlesMedia

The Bakersfield Californian – May 7, 2013
By James Burger

Sunday’s fierce, day-long wind storm hit Kern County’s stone fruit and almond growers hard over the weekend — stripping cherries, peaches and plums off trees, ripping through almond orchards and uprooting thousands of the shallow-rooted trees.

The blow to almond growers, who produce Kern County’s second-largest crop, could be a major, long-term handicap.

It isn’t uncommon to lose some almond trees to the wind, said Glenn Fankhauser, a deputy director with the Kern County Department of Agriculture and Measurement Standards. The trees have shallow roots. When they are heavy with almonds, they are vulnerable to being blown down.

But Sunday’s wind was a big one. It came from the wrong direction and did more damage than usual, he said.

Almond growers plant their trees so that they angle into the prevailing winds. But Sunday’s wind came from the opposite direction, blowing at the trees where they were weak.

A single almond orchard lost 1,500 trees over the weekend, Fankhauser said.

Almonds are a $727 million business in Kern County, he said. It can take years — as much as a decade — to get a new tree into production.

“It’s a really big disaster for one of our biggest crops, Fankhauser said.

Cherry growers were also unhappy, especially because the wind and rain followed a week of hot temperatures that had pushed the fruit to the edge of harvest.

Many growers had plans to harvest this week, and they were taking extreme measures Monday and Tuesday to protect the crops and get crews in to the orchards to pick.

“If you talk to a cherry grower it’s a big deal,” Fankhauser said.

Greg Wegis of Wegis Ranch, who farms 2,000 acres west of Wasco, said he didn’t see as much damage to his almond crop — though he heard growers to the south and east around Arvin had been hit hard.

But he was worrying about his cherry crop.

Wind blew some fruit off the trees and causing bruising on remaining cherries. But the rain, so close to harvest, threatens to split the fruit, Wegis said.

He had planned to start his harvest this week.

“They’re just turning red. We were going to start today,” Wegis said Tuesday. “We’re trying to blow the water off them.”

So far, the weekend weather has made a small to moderate impact on him.

Grower Steve Murray, of Murray Family Farms, said much of his cherry crop was protected because he invested in windbreaks for his orchards.

But the wet weather has caused him problems as well.

Murray said he was using helicopters to air out his cherries and was able to pick on Monday and Tuesday.

The Ranier variety of cherries — a blush-colored fruit that was nearing harvest — is estimated to have taken a 40 percent to 50 percent loss, according to Fankhauser.

Murray said that high fruit loss could trigger some growers to abandon their crops on the trees because the cost to pick would outweigh the value of the fruit in the packing house.

The full damage to other varieties of cherries won’t be known until harvest is complete. Wind bruising and abrasion is harder to see on the darker fruit of those varieties, he said.

Murray said that in most cases the fruit will be picked and taken to the packing house, but the turnouts could be reduced.

With Kern County’s cherry crop valued at an estimated $227 million, Fankhauser said, the economic impact from the weekend wind could be substantial.

Kern County’s peach and plum crops, each valued at $11 million, could also see significant damage. But, as with cherries, growers will need to wait to find out where they stand.

Octoberfest at Murray Farms

by Murray Family Farms on May 16, 2012 in ArticlesMedia

KGET.com – 9/30/2011

It’s the last day of September and this weekend several Octoberfest events are kicking off. Murray Family Farms hosts a family-friendly style Octoberfest, with lots of October-themed activities and food to enjoy too.

Murray Family Farms has hosted Octoberfest for eight years and they say it gets bigger and better each year. They’ve been working to get everything set up for Octoberfest, which starts Saturday.

Everything from a giant jumping pillow to pig and duck races, ant farms, farm tours. Healthy foods inside, including fresh fruit they harvest there. There are also homemade desserts including pies and cookies for fall.

Market Watch: New cherry varieties worth a pit stop

by Murray Family Farms on May 21, 2012 in ArticlesMedia

The Los Angeles Times – May 18, 2012
By David Karp
Special to the Los Angeles Times

 

Steven Murray Sr.(right) and his son, Steven Murray Jr. next to a GG100 cherry tree at Murray Family Farms in Arvin.

Early cherries are reason enough to head to the farmers market, but be careful. Erratic winter chill, freezes during bloom, hail and late rains have made for a short crop of early cherries from the southern San Joaquin Valley. But there’s still plenty of great fruit available at farmers markets for those who take care to select fresh, ripe cherries of the best varieties. In the last decade, the task has become trickier, but potentially more rewarding, with the arrival of new and unfamiliar varieties.

 

Royal Rainier cherries.

Bing doesn’t grow well in the southern San Joaquin Valley, so Brooks, which is early, large, firm and highly flavored, is the standard of quality there. This cross of Rainier and Burlat, introduced in 1988 by the University of California, is so good at its best that some growers rush the harvest by picking them red or even pink, when they’re just passable; it’s therefore worth paying a premium to “cherry pick” the ripest fruits.

Avoid Tulare cherries unless they’re tip-top. Brooks cracks when it rains, so many farmers grow the crack-resistant Tulare, a second-generation seedling of Bing introduced in 1988 by Bradford Genetics (now B.Q. Genetics). Until it’s fully ripe, it has a little point at the bottom that helps water to drain off. Growers often say, “Tulare is pretty good if it’s really ripe,” which is true, but its flavor is more often mediocre. It’s worth sampling, and buying if it’s good, but there are better early varieties available.

 

Glenred cherries, one of three varieties marketed as Sequoia.  ( David Karp / May 13, 2012 )

The new standard for early cherries is Sequoia, a marketing name for three similar proprietary (privately controlled) varieties, of which the most important is Glenred, a hybrid of Brooks and Tulare introduced in 2000. It combines the flavor and firmness of Brooks with the rain-resistance of Tulare and often sets a crop when other varieties don’t. The rights to grow and market Sequoias are controlled by Warmerdam Packing, which allows only one grower, Murray Family Farms of Arvin, to sell at farmers markets. Their Sequoia harvest is winding down, but late-picked fruits are darkest and deepest in flavor, so if they have any in the next week, grab them.

Murray, which grows 30 cherry varieties on 180 acres in the extreme southeastern corner of the San Joaquin Valley, offers a range of excellent (and some less good) varieties over its seven-week season and, conveniently for shoppers, makes a point of identifying them. This year it’s got half of a full crop, much better than its neighbors, some of whom didn’t have any fruit to pick. Murray sells in Santa Monica on Wednesdays, Woodland Hills and Redlands on Thursdays, Torrance and Ventura on Saturdays, and Hollywood, Santa Clarita and Ojai on Sundays.

Murray will have two lesser-known but superb new varieties this week, Flavor Giant and GG-100, both of them firm, dark fruits with high sugar, balancing acidity and intense flavor. Flavor Giant is small in size but big in flavor, with skin and flesh that can be almost black when fully ripe. Introduced as a pollenizer for Tulare, it never became a commercial success because of its size, but its rich, vinous flavor makes it a favorite among discerning buyers at farmers markets.

GG-100, which came out of the same program that bred Brooks, follows it in season. Like Flavor Giant it serves chiefly as a pollenizer in commercial orchards, but the fruit is large, with dark flesh and skin, and a pop on the palate, from high acidity and high sugar, that makes it suitable for both fresh eating and cooking.

Another good choice is Coral Champagne, also an alumnus of the Brooks program, which has been widely planted in recent years because it’s highly productive for farmers; its flavor is good but not quite as intense as Flavor Giant and GG-100.

 

Tieton cherries. ( David Karp / May 13, 2012 )

Currently Murray also has Royal Rainier, a second-generation seedling of Stella patented by Zaiger Genetics in 1999. It is not directly related to the standard Rainier (Bing x Van, 1960), but it’s similar in appearance, with gold skin and a pink blush. You can tell the difference because Royal Rainier has a longer, thinner stem. The fruit tends to be tart, slightly astringent and flavorless until it’s dead-ripe, but at that point it’s a honeyed treat.

California farmers grow about 42,000 acres of cherries, of which 7,000, plus 1,800 of young, nonbearing trees, are in Kern County, the southernmost commercial cherry district; 7,000 more are grown in the middle San Joaquin Valley, in Fresno, Tulare and Kings counties, where the season is just entering full swing.

The biggest growing area by far, with about 25,000 acres, is the area around Stockton, Linden and Lodi, where the Bing is still king. The Bing harvest from this area, which looks to be a good one, will start this coming week or the next one for most growers. J. P. Barbagelata will have Bings at the Santa Monica market on Wednesday, May 30. Only a limited number of actual farmers or their employees are willing to drive 700 miles round-trip to sell at Southern California farmers markets, but when properly dark, the Bing is unbeatable.

For commercial growers, planting late varieties in an early area might seem as anomalous as breeding miniature giraffes, but it makes sense for farmers market vendors to extend their season. Lapins, Sweetheart and Skeena, three leading late-season varieties that mature in late July and August in the Northwest, start ripening in early June in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Skeena is the firmest, darkest and best of those three, at least in this area.

For all cherries, if a stand is selling mostly spurs and doubles (malformed fruits), walk away unless they’re heavily discounted; they may be cheap culls that an unscrupulous vendor has bought from neighbors or packinghouses.

Commercial cherry orchards decimated by bad weather

by Murray Family Farms on May 16, 2012 in ArticlesMedia

The Bakersfield Californian – May 14, 2012
By: Courtenay Edelhart

 

Juvencio Ramirez picks Tulare cherries at Murray Family Farms on Monday morning. Photo by: Alex Horvath / The Californian

Owners of local cherry tree orchards are assessing the damage after badly timed unusual weather decimated this year’s cherry crop.

Steve Murray, owner of Murray Family Farms off Highway 58 just east of Bakersfield, called the damage to this year’s crop “unprecedented.”

“We’ve never seen it this bad before,” said Murray, who still plans to go ahead with a cherry festival the farm has planned for 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday to market its produce.

The festival includes, among other things, cherry pies, a cherry pit spitting contest and a “gourmet cherry bar.”

Murray Family Farms estimates it has lost about 45 percent of the yield it was expecting from some 180 acres of cherry trees it grows east of Bakersfield off Highway 58.

 

A tractor unloads freshly picked Tulare cherries at Murray Family Farms on Monday morning. From there the cherries are stacked and shipped to cold storage for the wholesale markets. Photo by: Alex Horvath / The Californian

Meanwhile, Acorn Farms east of Lamont says at least a quarter of the production on 40 acres of trees it owns east of Lamont is lost. It’s not clear yet the extent of the crop damage on another 260 acres of cherries Acorn Farms grower Bruce Frost farms for another owner, but as much as half this year’s yield could be gone.

“It’s not just us but the jobs, too,” Frost said. “It’s going to have a big economic impact.”

Murray said he’d normally have between 8,000 and 10,000 people picking cherry trees on his property this time of year, “but if you look out here now, you see maybe a dozen cars.”

Cherries are the 12th largest agricultural commodity in Kern County by value. They were a nearly $97 million industry here in 2010, according to the latest Kern County crop report by the county Department of Agriculture and Measurement Standards.

The county had 6,640 acres of cherry trees in 2010, up 22 percent from 5,450 in 2009.

Cherry trees avoid injury in the cold of winter by losing their leaves each fall and entering a dormant state.

 

Murray Family Farms employee Teresa Hurtado sorts Royal Rainier cherries before packing at their General Beale Road facility. Photo by: Alex Horvath / The Californian

Before they can resume growth, the trees must receive a minimum number of hours of “winter chill,” but this year Kern County had an unusually warm winter. That affected flowering and pollination time.

Local average winter temperatures in January were almost 3 percent higher than normal, and February was 2 percent warmer, according to the National Weather Service.

Then, to add insult to injury, there were several frosts during the trees’ longer than usual flowering periods.

“It was a tough season,” grower Frost said.

Unfortunately, there could be a lot more difficulty for the industry in future years, according to a team of researchers from the University of California, Davis, and the University of Washington.

A 2009 study by the team found winter chill is likely to decrease by more than half during this century as global climate warms, making California no longer suitable for growing many fruit and nut crops.

In a statement issued at the time, Eike Luedeling, a postdoctoral fellow in UC Davis’ Department of Plant Sciences, said, “Our findings suggest that California’s fruit and nut industry will need to develop new tree cultivars with reduced chilling requirements and new management strategies for breaking dormancy in years of insufficient winter chill.”

Frost said he’s nevertheless planning to stick with cherries, which he loves to grow.

“It’s a sickness, that’s what it is,” he said, chuckling. “But we’ll roll the dice again next year.”

What’s In Season at the Farmers Market: Sequoia Cherries + USDA SNAP Access

by Murray Family Farms on May 16, 2012 in ArticlesMedia

LA Weekly – May 11, 2012
By Felicia Friesema

The big news at farmers markets this week had little to do with actual fruits and vegetables as much as our access to them. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced $4 million in awards to help states expand availability of wireless technology in farmers markets so they can participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a.k.a. food stamps.

“This funding will help SNAP customers increase their opportunities to access healthy, local foods,” said Merrigan. “When we couple this approach with strategies like the education, cooking demonstrations, and community support often found at farmers markets, consumption of healthy foods should rise even more.”

The bottom line for local markets could mean an increase in revenues to the tune of thousands of dollars. Right now, approximately 1000 of the nation’s 7000 farmers markets accept SNAP. The down economy has also resulted in a 400% increase in SNAP purchases at participating farmers markets. Adding the wireless technology to accept SNAP knocks down a pretty big barrier to fresh food access, especially in neighborhoods where the closest apple is at the local convenience store.

But you came here for the cherries. Our favorite of the firsts — the Sequoia — unsurprisingly sold out before we could hit the Murray Family Farm stand at the Hollywood market this past Sunday. The Sequoia is a cherry game changer.

 

Sequoia cherries from Murray Family Farms. Photo by: Felicia Friesema

The first-season cherries of a decade ago were more thrilling for what they implied than for how they tasted. Often those first crops were small fruited, pinkish harvests with soft flesh and only a fraction of what you’d call cherry flavor. But seasonal eaters flocked anyway just for a welcome change from a citrus heavy winter. That changed in 2002 when a genetics company in Le Brand, CA was awarded their patent for the Sequoia cherry (a.k.a Glenred USPP12859). The Sequoia is a masterful cross between another early variety — the Brooks (also currently in season) — and the Tulare, busting the early-season stigma with big, tight-skinned fruits rich with sweetness and just a touch of tart imbedded in juicy,wine-colored flesh. It beat the Bing to market and stretched the definition of peak season for local cherries.

Murray Family Farms does have the Sequoia (for maybe another couple of weeks tops) along with the Brooks and the Royal Lee. They grow 17 different varieties of cherries in their Bakersfield orchards, all of which will eventually appear on their market tables between now and the early July. This year’s crop was spared the trauma of a late rain, keeping fruits whole and unsplit (Vickie Murray will tell you that the sound of cherries splitting in a rainstorm is the same as the sound of a heart breaking). The warm winter we had is keeping the harvests from reaching last year’s record breaking numbers, but the quality is still top notch. Choose for firm, dark fruit with tight skin and flexible stems. The warm weather we’ve been having right now couldn’t be better timed, cherry-wise. Higher temps push up the sugar in the fruit, making for a sweeter pick.

You can find Murray Family Farms at the Hollywood, Ojai, Palm Springs, Santa Clarita, Santa Monica (Wed.), Torrance, and Woodland Hills.

Family farm makes life ‘peachy’ for Boys and Girls Club

by Murray Family Farms on November 23, 2011 in ArticlesMedia

The Bakersfield Californian – June 2010
By Jeff Goodman, Californian staff writer

On almost any other day, Edson Portillo would have been reprimanded for spitting cherry seeds.

 

Photo from: Herny A Barrios/The Californian

Not on Thursday at the Boys and Girls Club in east Bakersfield, where he and scores of other children enjoyed a fruit-filled morning run by Murray Family Farms.

Portillo, an incoming fifth grader at Mount Vernon Elementary School, was crowned seed-spitting champion after three rounds of competition, earning his title by landing a pit in a bucket eight feet away.

“It was awesome,” Portillo said, smiling widely.

It was also educational. After the youngsters entered the gymnasium — one opened his mouth and licked his lips as he walked by the bins of fresh fruit — Murray Family Farms co-owner Vickie Murray demonstrated to them the benefits of selling produce directly to consumers.

There were other lessons to be learned, too. Boys and Girls Club program director Chris Molina said many of the children don’t have access to fruits and vegetables when they’re at home, so events like these impart the concept that eating healthy food can be fun.

 

Photo from: Herny A Barrios/The Californian

“It really opens the eyes of the kids,” he said. “It gives them the idea that, ‘I know there are seeds inside this fruit, but I need to eat this fruit first to get to the seeds.’ It’s all how you introduce it.”

Murray was inspired by her upbringing in inner-city Detroit — and her ever-apparent love for farming — to organize outreach programs across Kern County. Thursday’s event was the second of five such engagements this summer. And there might be more in the future.

“Some of these kids, they didn’t know what a nectarine is, what an apricot is,” Murray said as children filled white paper bags with five unique fruits. “It makes me cry.”

Murray Family Farms, which was established more than 20 years ago, has two locations in the area and offers school tours and hay wagon rides in addition to nearly 180 varieties of fresh-picked fruit.

Murray said she decided to coordinate the off-site activities because many schools and nonprofit organizations cannot afford field trips, and her latest visit sure seemed like a success.

 

Photo from: Herny A Barrios/The Californian

“It was really good,” Boys and Girls Club staffer Nathalie Martinez said. “The kids learned a lot, I think. They were really into it, really involved.”

The Boys and Girls Club on Niles Street in east Bakersfield originated in a nearby church in 1966 and moved to its current site, which features a gymnasium, computer lab, library and several multipurpose rooms, in the 1990s.

During the summer, it functions much like a day camp. Children ages 5 through 17 can access the club for $125 a week, and scholarships are available for low-income families.

Activities like ping pong tournaments and jump rope contests are meant to keep the participants active and happy. Or, in the case of Thursday’s program, healthy and happy.

“Hopefully, now the kids have a different vision,” Molina said. “When they go to the grocery store, they’re gonna tell their mom or dad, ‘I saw these when Murray Farms came out. These are peaches. Can I have one? I tasted one, and it was good!’

“They’ll want to eat fruit because of what they did today. They want to get to that seed.”

Original article: The Bakersfield Californian

Farmers market: Fresh vegetables, tasty sweeets available at farmers market

by Murray Family Farms on May 16, 2012 in ArticlesMedia

Ventura County Star – May 5, 2012
By Anne Kallas

The Newbury Park farmers market continues to offer tasty treats such as the popular bean pies from Shabazz Bakery in Inglewood, according to Curtis Muhammad, who was selling the unique desserts that taste much like pumpkin pie. There were also individual-sized peach pies, cherry cheese and blueberry cheese pies.

At the booth of Ayala Farms of Oxnard, Lupe Aguilar said the fresh spring onions on sale were great for cooking. The spinach, radishes and other spring vegetables were all enticing. Aguilar said the tomatoes and cucumbers are still being grown in greenhouses. She said it will be a few months until they can be grown outside. Aguilar said the strawberries have been faring well despite the recent rains.

At the booth of All-Green Farm of Riverside there was a great assortment of citrus, as well as apples left over from last season’s harvest. Skyline Flower Growers had seasonal blossoms, including lilies and alstroemeria.

Cherry season is here: The first cherries of the season were available at the Murray Family Farms booth at the Ojai farmers market. Murray Family Farms of Bakersfield offers a variety of stone fruit throughout the summer months.

Hundreds of kids hunted Easter eggs at Murray Family Farms

by Murray Family Farms on May 16, 2012 in ArticlesMedia

KGET.com – 4/08/2012

 

When it comes to Easter egg hunting, a strategy is necessary.

I’ll run around, use my football skills to pick up all the eggs,” said 12-year-old Tim West.

“I’m going to try to get 10 and move fast,” said Paige Lyday. “But I might get five.”

There’s even a little trash talking.

“He’s always so confident,” said 10-year-old Mason Kimmel of his friend Tim West. “This time, I can prove to you, I will beat you down.”

Kids dipped and dyed their eggs in paint and made fancy baskets to hold as many treats as they could grab.

“We have lots and lots of eggs for everybody,” said Murray Family Farms owner Vickie Murray.
It’s the farm’s second annual Easter egg hunt, and it’s no amateur race. They divide the kids into numerous rows by age groups.

“Because it’s crazy trying to figure out how many children you’re going to have, what age groups and how many eggs each should get,” said Murray, who says it was her husband’s idea last year. “We have to encourage the parents to cooperate and have their kids get a certain amount of eggs.”

She said last year, she underestimated the crowd, and every kid did not get an egg. This year, close to one thousand people came out, double the amount they had before, so Murray made the Easter baskets smaller to ensure no child went home empty-egged.

Some children dressed in their Easter best anxiously waiting to start the hunt, and when it did begin, it was a race until the end.

Many made out pretty well.

“I did really good, I had to have an extra basket,” said eight-year-old Rebecca Ruff.
She said her biggest challenge was trying to grab the eggs that other kids didn’t already have their hands on.

It was the eggs Olympics and a workout for all the parents involved.

“I’m glad there was a lot of room for the kids to spread out and run,” said Desiree Brandon, who brought her two kids last year. “They had crafts and activities, and it was inexpensive.”

All the farm’s activities gave the egg hunters a lot to choose from on this Easter eve.

“I’m just hanging out for spring break,” said seven-year-old Hailey Pimentel. “Having fun and spending time with family.”

Drought Also Affecting Crops

by Murray Family Farms on May 16, 2012 in ArticlesMedia

KGET.com – 7/10/2008

The extreme heat is a major issue for Kern County farmers, but it’s not their only problem.

A 3 year drought, and severely restricted water exports to the valley are putting additional pressure on crop production down on the farm.

Parched crops, the sound of lost revenue. And this isn’t a scene unique to Murray Family Farms near Bakersfield.

Steve Murray, owner of Murray Family Farms said, “I think the percentage of fruit in the box will go down because of this heat.”

Not enough rain, resulting in a low snow pack and below average runoff, coupled with restricted delta pumping to protect endangered fish, and now this stifling heat – it all adds up to a season of discontent for farmers here in the valley.

“I know some growers who have 700-acres of tomatoes who are just going to turn the water off and let them dry out and die cause they don’t have enough water to finish them out.”

But the lack of water isn’t driving Murray Family Farms into the ground.

The farm is part of the Arvin-Edison water storage district which banks water in the ground during the rainy season, and pumps it out to farms during summer months.

Water banking “is the future of agriculture and the water systems in California. We’re just blessed we’re in a district that has that banking.”

Though water is flowing today, Steve Murray says his profits may soon dry up.

“What we are going to see within the distribution system is that things like peaches and nectarines are going to all come off at the same time and there’s going to be a glut so that’s going to suppress prices for growers who are harvesting right now.”

But these issues don’t worry him most.

Murray says his first concern is the health of his workers in this extreme heat.

“If they feel like they need extra breaks, then they take extra breaks.”

Juan Garcia of Murray Family Farms said, “a lot of people are sick and maybe go home at 10 o’clock or 11 o’clock due to the heat.”

And shorter work days due to the heat means more product ends up on the ground than in your bag at the store.

What’s in Season at the Farmers Markets: First Cherries of the Season

by Murray Family Farms on November 23, 2011 in ArticlesMedia

LA Weekly – April 2011
By Felicia Friesema

 

Photo from: Amy Scattergood/LA Weekly

The earliest hint that the seasons are starting to switch from spring to summer is the baskets, bowls, and piles of early sweet and sour cherries on local market tables. We started watching the calendar when the artichokes showed up. Once artichoke leaves start to open up, it means that cherries, and summer, aren’t very far behind.
If the weather continues to hold out in the cherry orchards of the San Joaquin, we could be looking at a phenomenal cherry harvest in the coming weeks. And even though initial agricultural projections have been saying cherry season was going to be about a week or two late due to some colder weather during blossom set, we spied some very early cherry varieties at the local markets this morning. Cherries are particularly finicky as harvest approaches. One good rain storm splits the fruit, making it pretty much unsellable. But if this cherry weather holds, we could be looking at a record breaking harvest for California this year, and full of some of the best fruit we’ve seen in long time.

 

Photo from: Amy Scattergood/LA Weekly

These earliest of cherries from Murray Family Farms are the Royal Lees, a variety that requires less winter chill time. Royal Lees ripen a good two weeks before other varieties and are sweet with a softer, less dense flesh and have a bright, light ruby color. Vickie Murray, who helps oversee the 165 acres of cherry trees that she and her family tend in Bakersfield, says they’re good, but that one of her real favorites will be in next week: the Brooks.
“Brooks and Royal Rainiers are what I make myself sick over,” said Murray. “And [this year] we’re going to have the best harvest we’ve ever had. We’re so excited.”

Part of the reason for this year’s bumper crop has been the magical combination of a good, long wintertime chill coupled with just the right amount of rain. The result has been an impressive blossom set sprouting off well-rested trees. The fruit, Murray says, is full and coloring up well, and barring any weather mishaps (cherries are notoriously finicky about rain and cold), this crop will break records.

Last year’s warmer winter and heavy rains didn’t do much for the cherry crop, thought the season seemed to last a little longer since the trees were ripening fruit at uneven rates. This year, everything is ripening at once and on cue, which means great fruit, but a shorter season: four to six weeks tops.

“[Cherries] are a fleeting butterfly,” said Murray. “There are a lot of peaches that you can eat all summer and citrus that are around all winter. But cherries are here and then gone and you’re not going to see them for another year.”

In addition to being one of the newer vendors at the Wednesday Santa Monica Market, Murray Family Farms also opens up their two Bakersfield farm locations for visits and agritourism. Their “Old Tomato Weigh Station” farm on the 5 freeway about 18 miles south of Bakersfield will be opening up for cherry picking in the next week or so.

Original article: LA Weekly

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GAYLEN YOUNG: On the road to good eating

by Murray Family Farms on November 23, 2011 in ArticlesMedia

The Bakersfield Californian – April 2011
By Gaylen Young, Contributing columnist

With all my children now living in Utah and much of my normal business still in Bakersfield, I am back and forth a lot these days. That means I really have come to know Highway 58, the main east-west route in and out of Kern County.

To make the drive easier, I have come to appreciate many landmarks along the way.

 

Casey Christie/The Californian

I know that once I turn west from Barstow, it’s just a few miles until I pass Edwards Air Force Base. Then on to Mojave’s Space Port and Tehachapi’s windmills. A little farther is the Tehachapi Loop, the Big Red Barn at Murray Family Farms and then I’m home.

I stop along the way for gas and food. Next month, I’ll have another important excuse to stop at the Big Red Barn because the Murray family will officially open the kitchen for lunches and full meals.

I’ve known Steve and Vickie Murray for more than a decade as they’ve turned their farm land first into a roadside fruit and veggie stand, then into a destination for passersby, and now into a full-fledged tourist mecca.

The Murrays had a small farm of about 20 acres not far from the Big Red Barn. They grew mostly cherries. But most grocers and wholesalers didn’t want the small amount they produced. So they took their fruit to Santa Barbara’s Farmer’s Market and loved it. They decided they should do something similar here in Kern County.

 

Photo from: Casey Christie/The Californian

“We decided that is what we wanted to do, because when you give a sweet little old lady a bag of good cherries that she hadn’t had in 40 years, she’d get tears in her eyes. There’s just something about that, and that was our start,” Vickie Murray said.

The Murrays thought the land owned by Bert Berchtold and Jimmie Icardo near General Beale Road was the perfect spot.

“Neither of them wanted to sell to us, but Steve kept after them, year after year until they finally agreed to sell it,” Murray said.

Then came the 20-year expansion. The Murrays have grown their acreage for planting from 20 acres to about 220. The roadside market grew from a little stand to a trailer, to a larger area including a petting zoo. For the last seven years, they’ve built and expanded the Big Red Barn.

“It really took us a long time. When we had the money to expand, the planning department would make us re-do something. Then when they gave us the green-light, we didn’t have the money,” Murray said. “It’s been hard for them to help us because we’re here on agricultural land, which is zoned for farming, but we’re trying to do commercial too, so it’s been a real process.”

The Murrays were finally able to pave the on and off ramp, get all the zoning and plumbing and have just finished the permits to allow them to open the kitchen part of the Big Red Barn. About the first of May they plan to have an official grand opening.

 

Photo from: Casey Christie/The Californian

“We opened the Red Barn almost three years ago and we’ve been selling fruits and vegetables here since then, but we didn’t want to have an official ‘grand-opening’ without our kitchen. It’s always been our dream to have this cool little restaurant here that serves lunches and homemade pies and fudge, but it’s taken years to get all the permits for it,” Murray said.

The Murrays also took over an old fruit and veggie stand along Interstate 5 near Copus Road a couple of years ago and have fixed it up as a smaller version of their Big Red Barn location.

“Now we get all the north-south travelers going back and forth from San Francisco to Los Angeles,” Murray said.

It seems that’s how Colonel Baker got started, allowing his 40 acres near the Convention Center to be used by north-south travelers who stopped at Baker’s field.

The Murrays have also expanded their Big Red Barn to include a petting zoo, corn maze, ant farm and plenty of “pick-your-own” fruits. Last year they had more than 10,000 school kids come for tours and leave with a bucket of berries. They’re also a main stop for tour buses, which bring people from all over the world.

It’s a great enterprise for Kern County, not only because of the tourism, but also because it employs about 40 workers.

California Farm Diversifies for Success

by Murray Family Farms on November 23, 2011 in ArticlesMedia

Fruit Growers News – March 2010
By Alan Kandel, Western Editor

Murray Family Farms is based in Kern County, Calif., at the southernmost end of the San Joaquin Valley. The diverse agritourism operation has two locations: a 42-acre fruit farm and a 70-acre fruit and vegetable farm, what the Web site refers to as the “southern gateways to California’s Central Valley.”

 

Besides on-site bakeries and petting zoos, the business offers u-pick, wagon rides and other family activities. Prima Frutta Packing, Warmerdam Packing and Hurst Berry are responsible for wholesale sales. They pack and ship the farm’s fruit domestically and internationally to Japan, Korea and Taiwan, among other countries.

Murray Family Farms, like nearly all of its state counterparts, has had to weather rough economic times, weather and water vagaries and wide swings in production and pricing, but to Steve Murray, challenges are nothing new.

When Steve was 18, his father died and the estate went bankrupt. This forced the Murrays to rely on food stamps. Steve was attending college at the time.

The family eventually got back on its feet, however, and Steve completed his studies at the University of California, Riverside. After graduating, he became a pest control adviser for Monsanto, which he did for 25 years.

Having relocated to Bakersfield, Calif., in 1983, Steve started S.M. Apiaries, amassing up to 300 beehives, on top of his involvement with Monsanto.

In 1989, Steve, his wife Vickie and their three children traded their Bakersfield home for a 20-acre table grape farm in the country. Ten of those acres were leased and turned into a cherry nursery, and they used Steve’s credit card to buy more farmland.

And the rest is history, more or less.

Realities

Since the frost of 2006 and the three-year drought, the economy and the weather have made life increasingly difficult for Californians – southern cherry farmers in particular. In the face of such adversity, many farms and farmers have been forced to make adjustments.

“Because money is tight, we now ‘cash-flow’ all development activities,” Steve said.

Water at Murray Family Farms comes courtesy of the San Joaquin River by way of the 52,000-acre Arvin-Edison Water Storage District. Thanks to water shortages, the district has had to rely on pumps to extract water that was “banked” in the aquifer during wet years. In 2009, only 2 inches of rain fell in the district. This year, rains have been more abundant, but if they persist through harvest it could create issues for cherries and blueberries. An early spring could also be followed by an untimely frost, he said.

The economy has created pressures of its own. Fruit prices and tourist numbers can still be affected, even when the weather cooperates. Attendance is up but the public is spending less per person. Prices for blueberries were pitiful, but those for California cherries were good due to the light crop, Steve said.

The Murrays turned to agritourism as a diversification strategy, but it has risks of its own.

“Agritourism eats up all of your available cash and then soaks up all of your profits in continuous upgrades, new venues and infrastructure,” Steve said. “In 2009, we had about 7,000 school kids in group tours visit our farm, down by 30 percent due to cuts in school transportation budgets. Attendance will be down an additional 25 percent in 2010.”

More than 75 percent of the farm’s income comes from international sales through the packing houses and interstate travelers at the fruit stands. The farm also brings in dollars from farmers’ markets in southern California and the coast. More than 75 percent of its expenses go to local employees that live in a seriously distressed economy, Steve said.

Uniqueness

The farm’s employees are the keys to its success, however. Juan Garcia is the farm manager, and the retail managers are Liliana Loquin, Bob Enger and Laura Garcia. The farm also employs two students in the Bakersfield College culinary program as bakers, he said.

Besides the approximately 36 full-time employees needed for winter work, as many as 660 are present during peak cherry harvest, 600 of whom are contracted pickers. But the enterprise could get by with just four full-time employees if agritourism weren’t part of the operation.

Besides the roughly “170 varieties of tree and vine fruit for farmers’ markets and our two fruit stands,” the farm also grows 360 acres of commercially produced apricots, blueberries and cherries, Steve said.

“We are known for producing some of the earliest cherries in California.”

Furthermore, “Chilling is essential for many of the crops that I produce,” Steve said. “We continue to break records on low winter chilling.”

Agritourism customers consist of local residents, school children and tourists. There are tours for college students and faculty. Both Bakersfield College and California State Polytechnic University participate.

The farm participates in 18 farmers’ markets. Steve expects to team up with an existing Community Supported Agricultural program very soon. For more information, call 661-330-3030 or visit the Web site: www.murrayfamilyfarms.com.