By Kate Newton

MICHAEL VASEY AND his wife, Hillary, became third-generation prune growers when they took over her family’s farm in Red Bluff, California, eight years ago—inheriting a legacy 85 years in the making. Transitioning from two decades in the corporate world to the farming lifestyle was no easy feat, but Vasey worked hard to reassure his employees that the farm’s collaborative culture would remain unchanged.

“I think it was actually a benefit that I didn’t know much about farming, because I see my job as tapping into those people and really respecting their experience and knowledge,” Vasey says.

Lindauer River Ranch and its 400-acre crop of prunes—Vasey says they handpick more than 50,000 trees each year—joined the Sunsweet Growers cooperative about five years ago after previously selling to various buyers. The transition made financial sense, but Vasey was also drawn to Sunsweet’s reputation and high foodsafety standards. “Our core competency is growing large, quality prunes, and Sunsweet wanted those,” Vasey says. Consistency is also key: Lindauer’s prunes are dried in a tunnel with natural gas for about 18 hours to control the dehydration process as much as possible. Because prunes are incredibly time- and labor-intensive, Vasey says they also began growing walnuts when he took over the farm in an effort to diversify. The walnuts are sold in-shell to C.R. Crain and Sons, a nearby producer that exports them internationally. While each year ushers in many uncertainties in the farming business, Vasey says it’s a small price to pay in exchange for the time he’s been able to spend with his wife and kids in the years since. “It’s something that brings the family together,” he adds. “You always have something to talk about!”

 

 

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