R&K Orchards in Corning
● By Christy Milan
Story by Christy Milan
Photos by Sunshine Rush
and Photos Courtesy of R&K Orchards
BITING INTO A FRESH peach can result in lip-smacking juices cascading down your chin. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. The result is sticky hands and a mouthful of perfection.
Summers in the North State can be hot, but along with the heat comes the summer harvest. Fruits and vegetables provide a refreshing taste of summer. The summer ushers in nectarines, peaches, plums, apricots and so much more.
Robert and Karen Mills own The R&K Orchards in Corning, and their family has more than a 100-year history in farming. The nectarines, peaches and apricots are just a hint of the seasonal stone fruits that R&K Orchards offers from May through August.
Robert Mills’ great-grandparents purchased approximately 300 acres west of Corning in 1918, where they raised cattle and sheep and grew hay and wheat. Fruit trees were added along both sides of the creek’s banks. A loan from a family member “provided the funding to build a two-story red barn to house hay and the animals,” says Stella Mills Davis. The barn is still intact, having survived severe floods and storms throughout the years. The family remained working the orchard and it was passed down generation after generation. In 1960, the family sold the land.
In 1994, Robert Mills II bought 45 acres of the property, and the following year he purchased another 10 acres adjoining the property with his new bride, Karen. Mills began to replant and install a new irrigation system so the orchard could be irrigated from an agricultural well. In the spring of 1995, the Mills replanted the majority of cherry trees. The trees thrived, and they planted another section with a variety of stone fruit trees. Peaches, apricots, nectarines and cherries fill the orchards with colors and an anticipation of flavor.
Mills bought the last 10 acres complete with a new home, barn and ag well in 1998. When harvest time approached, Robert’s step-grandfather, Junior Duncan, invented the bin carrier to increase efficiency of the harvest. The carrier provided a way to move heavy fruit boxes quickly and cut down the time it takes to harvest. The carrier has been improved throughout the years.
The orchard took years to name, as they could not decide between Two Palms or Jams. The two palms that grow on the property seemed to be an ideal name, but Jams represented all the children and Mills’ niece: Joseph, Amber, Marissa and Stephanie. Mills made the executive decision to name it R&K after Robert and Karen.
R&K started with a small fruit stand which provided for the locals. It grew quickly, much to their surprise.
They started selling at the fruit stand at Robert’s grandmother’s house for two years. At the time, little attention was focused on fresh fruit sales, but instead on drying the stone fruit for sales throughout the year. The Millses began selling fresh fruit off I-5 and Corning Road, and construction of an agricultural shop, designed to be the fruit stand, was soon underway. The stand would be close to the orchard and have freeway access to attract customers. The orchard continued to grow, and as production increased, the Mills discussed the expansion. They started to attend the Red Bluff Farmers Market on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Soon, they were certified to sell at the farmers markets in Tehama County. The expansion continued with the Mills becoming members of the Shasta Growers Association.
Driving along in the summer sun, you may need to quench your thirst. Go ahead, drive to R&K Orchards to discover an array of flavors that burst forth after being ripened to the peak of perfection. •
R&K Orchards • 22171 Corning Road, Corning