Bright Harvest: Local farms bursting with ripening fruits

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comMay 21, 2013 

— The hot valley sun has started beaming down on area farms, ripening fruits such as blueberries, cherries, apricots and strawberries. Through fall, fresh and locally produced fruits will fill farm stands and markets.

Fruit harvested in Merced County brings in a gross return of $132 million, according to the county agricultural department's latest annual crop report.

That's nowhere near the more than $1.1 billion provided by the county's top farm commodity, dairy, but agricultural officials say such crops are an important part of the area's economic landscape.

"Growing tree fruit helps to diversify our tree and vine industry, which is highly dependent on nut crops and wine grapes," said Maxwell Norton, University of California Cooperative Extension adviser.

These growers also give consumers a chance to buy locally grown produce, Norton stressed.

Strawberries, blueberries and cherries are being harvested this month, said David Robinson, county agricultural commissioner.

"Locally produced fruit — although a small part of the overall agricultural economy — is very important to the local economy," he said.

Over the next few months, harvest season will begin for apricots, figs, peaches, plums and tomatoes. Nut crops and sweet potatoes are harvested in late summer and through the fall.

For those who would like to try some early-season fruit right off the tree, the ninth annual Pick and Gather at Riverdance Farms and Merced River Fair takes place the first weekend in June.

Visitors can pick organic cherries and blueberries to the sounds of local bluegrass musicians, as well as enjoy a tour of the farm and other activities.

The festival takes place at Riverdance Farms, 12230 Livingston Cressey Road in Livingston, on June 1. Camping is available. For more information, visit www.riverdancefarms.com.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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