Mandarins and More at Morse Farms
● By Melissa Mendonca
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Alexis LeClair
A tour of Morse Farms in Oroville shows not only the inner workings of a small family farm, but the result of the owners’ dream of an ideal retirement set-up. “We’re big planners,” says Glennda Morse of the farm she and husband John developed. “It’s what our jobs were, essentially.”
Having raised their children and built careers at Chico State University and the Department of Water Resources in Chico, the couple began an early search for retirement property on which to build a farm. In 1998, they bought five acres in the Oroville foothills, which John described as “a bare piece of ground except for the poison oak.”
Today, thanks to the efforts of their family and friends, and expert advice from the University of California at Davis extension agents, that bare piece of ground is lush with 400 Satsuma mandarin trees in the front, and 250 fruit trees and bushes that range from raspberries to apples to lemons, limes and pomegranates behind their custom-built home and shop.
Satsuma harvest is in full gear at the moment and the couple is feeling decidedly not retired, filling shipping orders to send the fresh fruit across the country and bagging up product to sell at their retail stand on the property. “It’s a small operation, but it’s busy during the season,” says John, noting that the couple will work long hours harvesting, prepping, shipping and selling. “We do everything from start to finish,” says Glennda.
With the harvest beginning about a week before Thanksgiving and continuing to the first of January, Morse Farms is poised to be part of winter holiday festivities, whether their products are consumed at seasonal gatherings or given as gifts.
Their product line extends beyond fresh mandarins to include a signature mandarin barbecue sauce, syrup and seasoning rubs created at a co-packing facility using their recipes and fruits. Glennda produces a wide range of jams and jellies, as well as a secret recipe Holiday Sauce in an on-site certified cottage kitchen. John creates apple butters, which are also popular.
While the syrup, barbecue sauce and seasonings are all available at outlets throughout the region, including Enjoy the Store, all cottage kitchen products are available only at the farm stand or festivals by direct sale. Their popularity means that the stand gets busy. “That lasts about two days here,” Glennda says of her Holiday Sauce.
“I’ve always made jams and jellies,” she adds, noting that she picked up the skill from her mom and grandma. The couple laugh that she’s been able to turn people around who previously didn’t like marmalade, because she uses a precise ratio of fruit, juice and rind to create a product that isn’t bitter. “She stirs it just right, won’t even let me talk to her,” John says of his wife’s process.
A few years ago she came up with a ginger-marmalade blend at the suggestion of a festival-goer from Iraq who enjoys the more exotic taste. The flavor profile has become popular. “All of the homemade jams and jellies will be off the shelves by the end of the season,” says Glennda.
“We open about two weeks later than most mandarin farms because we’re so particular about our sweetness,” says John. Emphasizing just how much of a family farm they are, he adds, “The majority of our pickers are our adult children who come home on weekends and know how to pick by color.” Each tree may be picked up to 15 times, so only ripe fruit is taken at any given time. To extend its viability, each piece is hand rubbed with a white cloth rather than brushed or cleaned in a bulk process.
Jumping in to help are many of the couple’s friends, as well. “A lot of our retired friends really like working here,” says John. “People like that we’re here.” Of the many customers who come in each year, they hold a soft spot for a group of women that arrive with a list of names and addresses and then set about to build baskets to be shipped off as Christmas gifts. “Then they head down to Feather Falls Casino for lunch and a beer,” Glennda says with a laugh.
They just may end up ordering even more Morse Farms product down at Feather Falls, where brewmaster Roland Allen has combined Morse Farms Satsuma juice into Emperor Wheat, a mandarin beer named
by Glennda. “That’s been a real good combination,” says John.
The Morse Farms website boasts 26 pages of recipes using their fruit and products. Whether it’s with fresh fruit or one of their many preserves, Glennda says, “It’s nice to know we’re on a lot of people’s Thanksgiving and Christmas tables.” •
Morse Farms • 8 Feathervale Drive, Oroville