Mandarin Season in the Foothills Makes the Golden Years a Golden Opportunity
When the November sun rises above Rattlesnake Bar in Newcastle, CA, its glorious rays reach out to kiss the abundance of “Mountain Candy” growing throughout the foothills. That sweet deliciousness is the Satsuma mandarin at it’s prime, and growing it in their prime are the owners of North Fork Mandarins.
For those familiar with the Gold Country foothills, it is no surprise to see business after business springing up at property after property. That’s because so many of these foothill residents are building their “Retirement Businesses.” Long gone are the days when many people received their golden handshake and then wrapped their grip around golf clubs as they galavant into their golden years. Today’s retirees are go getters, and that’s exactly how you would describe Russell and Eileen Field of North Fork Mandarins.
This is their busy time of year right now, and both agree they wouldn’t have it any other way!
During peak season, these semi-retirees work seven days a week and ten or more hours a day—and no two days are alike! With weather taking a toll on what happens day-to-day with the process of picking, sorting,and bagging the fruit, these farmers take it in stride. That’s because when it rains, the fruit cannot be picked until it’s dry again. Further, there are other things in nature that can hurt their crops. Russell says that deer can wipe out a crop in nothing flat, and they’ve installed extra deer fencing along the perimeter of their orchard. But when it comes to weather, he says, “We just remain flexible and switch gears.” When it’s raining or the fruit is wet, they shift operations to bagging dry previously-picked fruit, in order to make use of their time.
“I got into this as a hobby. My favorite part is the social aspect,” says Russell. “This is my passion, along with pottery and my wife—not in that order of course! Family first!” He jests, his wife, a retired Registered Nurse, Eileen Field, is the “brains of the operation, I’m just the labor!” And after 15 years, she still enjoys the business too, even if it means much time is spent working in their garage for two months during the winter. The Fields host a smaller operation. They sell straight mandarins only. No value-added products, no festivals, no shipping service. They prefer to keep things simple as a hobby farm, just to keep them busy.
And busy they are preparing for the season to hit! Eileen says, “It’s always a good time because it’s fun.” She reminisces, “We get to meet new people and see old friends.” That’s what this whole semi-retirement business is all about for them, the connections they make and getting to socialize with others.
Russell says they enjoy really taking the time to talk to their customers and get to know them, find out where they are from, and what they do. He said you never know who you will meet on any given day and have even had customers, unknowingly, show up who knew Eileen’s parents. It’s those “small world” experiences that keep them doing this, and the customers keep coming back. “It’s about price point, product and personality. If you have a good product at a good price, people will come. I just put out a sign (on the road). That’s how you sell, and remember that the customer is always right.”
These semi-retirees are changing what the Golden Years look like in the Gold Country. For retirees today it’s about using their talents, and creating businesses that keep their minds as active as their bodies are. “It’s not about looking to get rich,” it’s about living a rewarding life, sums up Russell as he looks out over his vast orchard with a smile. “This is as good as it gets, and it is GOOD!”