The sun was shining, and Herman and Lynette Van Laar were
smiling. They were standing in the back of their century-plus-old family farm
home surrounded by the sweet-smelling blossoms of almond trees in their 20-acre
Absent was a trace of worry on their faces that was there five years ago almost to the day. It was the height of the drought in California, and they were debating whether they should turn on their water wells - an expensive proposition - to preserve their crop that year.
They were not alone in their water worries. In orchards and fields around them - in rural Manteca and Ripon - were desperately hopeful blue-and-white placards carrying the message, "PRAY FOR RAIN," distributed by other farmers becoming increasingly apprehensive about the lack of any precipitation to quench the thirst of bone-dry fields and orchards.
Not so this time. Even the previous days' rains did not pose any harm on the almond trees bursting with buds. Even the early blossoms on the early varieties - the Sonora and the Nonpareil, which are the only two varieties that they have in their orchard - did not manifest the slightest destruction on the delicate petals. The Van Laars' nut trees are expected to reach the peak of their blooming phase within the next few days. Other orchards around them consisting of later-harvest varieties such as the Carmel, Butte, and Monterey are still in the budding stage but on the brink of a full-flowering explosion in time for the perennially popular annual Ripon Almond Blossom Festival held the last weekend of February.
"It's the Sonoras that are blooming now; next to bloom are the Nonpareils," Herman said of the trees in their orchard.
Interestingly enough, he pointed out, that order reverses come harvest time.
"The Nonpareil will be harvested first, followed a week later by the Sonora," he said.
Harvest time happens in the fall.
NO STRANGERS TO FARM LIFE
The Van Laars are no strangers to farming. While Lynette was Ripon's city clerk for many years, retiring only a few years ago, she grew up as a country girl and was raised by farmer parents and grandparents who lived and farmed in rural south Manteca and Ripon. Her grandparents actually had a dairy on the corner of the acreage where they have the almond orchard today on West Ripon Road. Later, they lived on another farm property with an almond orchard on Almondwood Avenue in rural Manteca. The grandparents later sold that property to Larry Haworth who continues to farm the 40-acre almond orchard today while at the same time helping his family run the Dutra Dairy on West Ripon Road founded by his late grandfather, Tony Dutra.
Both Van Laars have many fond memories growing up in the country and helping their parents and grandparents. Herman actually chuckled as he recalled helping the family during walnut harvest time as a young boy. He still remembers picking up the walnuts on the ground "on my hands and knees" and gathering them in buckets. The nuts were knocked off not by machine but by hand by his grandfather, he said.
For her part, Lynette remembers growing up in her grandparents' farm on the corner of their current property.
"They had an old house and a barn here. It was an operating farm at the time. They had cattle. They used to raise ducks too, and chicken" which they sold at Chinatown in San Francisco, she recalled.
Their lifelong experiences growing up on a farm, and being exposed to the ups and downs of relying on the earth and the vagaries of Mother Nature, are evident in their positive attitude about things in life. A case in point was Lynette's unflagging optimism even at the peak of the record drought in California five years ago when she commented in an interview with the Manteca Bulletin, "We’ve had other years when it rained and rained, and we still came up with something."
A few days before she made that remark, she predicted that there will be rain when the almond trees are in bloom.
Sure enough, that's what actually happened.