Gear Head Tuesday takes a slightly different turn this week as we report on our visit to the Larsen Apple Ranch in the unincorporated community of Camino off of Lake Tahoe-bound U.S. 50 east both of Sacramento and the historic gold rush town of Placerville. The tour was organized by Sacramento based produce distributor, Produce Express, who took us on last month’s tour of the Northern California tomato harvest.
The Larsen family apple (and pear) business dates to 1860 when Nels Larsen came from Oslo, Norway. The farm is still in Larsen family hands 148 years later. The farm is in the Sierra foothills at about 3,000 feet of elevation.
For many years the principal crop in the area was pears. In the mid-1960s, a pear blight destroyed many of the trees. The farmers turned to producing apples – and in more recent years, the gamay variety of wine grapes. As a result of the pear blight, pear production in the area is minuscule today compared to what it once was, but there is an abundance of pears grown today in the Sacramento River Delta area around Courtland.
To recover from the loss of pear production, the farmers in the Camino area, including the Larsen family, founded the Apple Hill Growers association to market their apples and to encourage tourism to the area.
The Larsen ranch grows some 20 varieties of apples along with pears and grapes. The Bake Shop on the ranch produces 200 pies a day. Everything in the Bake Shop is made from “scratch”, despite the large volume of production.
Two varieties of apples growing on the Larsen ranch
The Larsen Bake Shop produces 200 pies a day – and numerous other treats,
all from “scratch”.
The Larsens were part of the “Farm to Fork” movement even before such a movement was formally recognized. The produce distributor that organized this tour, Produce Express, has been one of the leaders in this effort as well. The Sacramento area is now recognized as being “America’s Farm-to-Fork” capital.
Above: a “retired” apple grading machine in the Larsen museum. Below: a brief video of a modern grading machine in operation in Larsen’s packing shed.
Click to play.
Above: graded apples and in-house produced apple and pear juice for sale in the Larsen Ranch store.
Being a “Gear Head” – and this being “Gear Head Tuesday”, what we liked best about the tour was the collection of old machinery and vehicles on the Larsen ranch. I couldn’t get a decent photo of it, but the Larsen’s have a 1959 Ford truck that is in daily use for hauling packing crates around the ranch.
The packing crates are usually hauled around the Larsen ranch by a
1959 Ford F-250 flatbed truck.
Outside the museum on the ranch is the rusty remnant of a 1920s-era Dodge pickup truck – but alongside the Dodge was a very much up-and-running 1929 Ford pickup:
Inside the museum is a 1919 Ford Model T pickup and a 1935 Allis-Chalmers tractor:
All of these vehicles and equipment have been the property of the Larsen family for generations. Outside was a pre-war Chevy pickup and an International pickup:
Here’s a collection of Caterpillars and tractors the Larsens have accumulated:
We close with this steam tractor in the Larsen collection: