After serving with the United States Air Force, Jim Van Foeken found himself dairy farming in Washington State. After 15 years of working on the dairy, Jim decided to pack up and move back to California, his home state.
Jim was originally from Cypress in Southern California, but found that the area had grown up too much and was not as hospitable to agricultural efforts. Knowing for a certainty that he wanted to pursue farming, Jim decided to, “Pick a spot on the map, pack our bags and get on a plane!” The lucky spot turned out to be Ivanhoe, California.
Never having visited the town before, Jim and his family started looking for places to buy. Through an acquaintance at church, they finally settled on the 32 acres of land that is now Cottage Grove farm and the rest is history!
Jim is fascinated with the history of citrus farming in California, and was kind enough to share some of the history of his favorite citrus to grow: Navel Oranges! Jim shared that navel orange trees are all clones of one another and all originate from a single tree in Brazil.
In 1820, a mutation occurred in a group of sweet orange trees growing on the grounds of a monastery in Bahia, Brazil. The mutation created a seedless orange that was much sweeter than the original citrus fruit. In addition, the new species had an underdeveloped twin orange growing within the same skin of each fully developed orange. From the outside, this growth looked like a human belly button, which resulted in the naming of the newly grown citrus variety: navel oranges.
Since navel oranges are seedless, farmers couldn’t simply grow another tree from the seeds to get more of the fruit. The only way to grow more navel oranges is to amputate a blossoming bud from an existing navel orange tree and unite it with another compatible fruit tree’s trunk or root. This process is called grafting and is only successful if the grafted fruit trees are compatible with one another. Since navel oranges belong to the same species as grapefruits, lemons, and limes, they can be grafted with any of these.
Two years after the discovery of the navel orange tree, Brazil sent a dozen navel orange seedlings to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington DC. Five years later, a woman named Eliza Tibbets planted one of these seedlings at her home in Riverside, California and it started producing fruit. Mrs. Tibbets success growing this fruit spread, and other California orange growers decided to take buds from her tree to grow as well, since the California climate proved perfect for navel oranges.
The spread of navel oranges in California began in 1910 – with one of the original groves being planted right here in Tulare County!
In addition to the ever popular navel orange, Jim currently grows multiple citrus varieties, along with tangerines, apples, cherries, pluots, apricots, tangelos, lemons, and pomegranates. He also sells some specialty varieties, including mellow gold grapefruit and pomelos.
Jim has a genuine love for his work, having a hand in all aspect of farming at Cottage Grove at one point or another – from picking to packaging to growing and selling. But his favorite part of the job is meeting his happy customers and regulars at the Farmers Market.
Cottage Grove can be found in the Los Angeles and Central California area, selling citrus and fruits at 8-9 markets in the state, but Jims favorite market is the one in his own back yard. Jim has been a vendor with Visalia Farmers Market for close to 20 years now, and he says that his days at the market remain his favorite.
“With farming it’s all work work work, worry worry worry. But here at the Market, it’s all fun!”