Ag

Fairhaven Orchards: old business, new ways

In time for cherry season, owners redouble safety measures, add online ordering and curbside pickup.

Fairhaven Orchards has been operating for over 75 years, but this year’s cherry season started looking a little iffy. In farming, the final result of 365 working days, often with very long hours, all comes down to the harvest.

For a minute, it was uncertain whether Fairhaven would even be able to sell its crop to the public this year. Cherry season for Fairhaven Orchards on Highway 25 near Hollister usually starts around June 1. That’s when the Rajkovich family business opens its barn doors and locals pour in to buy boxes of fresh cherries.

A customer picks up his cherries at the front counter. Photo by Leslie David.
A customer picks up his cherries at the front counter. Photo by Leslie David.

Early this spring, as social distancing went into effect, Nichole Rajkovich saw the writing on the wall and got to work prepping with safety in mind.

“We got started back in April,” Rajkovich said, looking smart in a mask with bright red cherries printed all over it. She said they took the virus seriously from the start and put extra time into bringing all the workers up to speed on how to avoid COVID-19. Fairhaven employees live on the farm and so Rajkovich was able to go over safety training with them thoroughly.

“We’ve taken extra steps to ensure the health and safety of our employees, family and our customers,” Rajkovich said. “Everything we’ve all come to expect: wearing masks and gloves, constantly sanitizing our work areas and food processing surfaces and of course social distancing for staff and public.”

Not yet fully ripe, cherry clusters weigh heavily on tree branches along the driveway in. Photo by Leslie David.
Not yet fully ripe, cherry clusters weigh heavily on tree branches along the driveway in. Photo by Leslie David.

Fortunately for Fairhaven, San Benito businesses were allowed to reopen just as the fruit started to ripen.

As opening weekend approached, Rajkovich’s sister Marie Hoffman dealt with the extra signage and alternative marketing required this season. She made sure the parking area was well-marked and that spots were blocked off for online order pickup.

Fairhaven has a simple website where customers can select their products and use the new curbside pickup option.

“Our fruit stand is essentially contactless with all our products on display only with menu pricing to minimize contact for our customers,” Hoffman said.

Umbrellas are set along the walkway so customers have shade while they wait for their turn. Photo by Leslie David.
Umbrellas are set along the walkway so customers have shade while they wait for their turn. Photo by Leslie David.

Like other small businesses, it’s a different season than the Rajkovich family has ever experienced before. But innovation and flexibility have brought solutions to these new challenges. “The online orders have been working well,” Hoffman said.

The old barn that for many years was used to display ripe Bing and Rainier cherries, dried apricots, almonds and walnuts is closed to the public for now. Instead, everything is brought up to the customer counter.

Emma Hoffman loads cherries in the car trunk for an online customer. Photo by Leslie David.
Emma Hoffman loads cherries in the car trunk for an online customer. Photo by Leslie David.

“Traditionally, we just invited the public in to wander around,” Hoffman said. “Now however, while our community adjusts and adapts to the reality of COVID-19, our customers can shop local and feel comfortable with the experience.”

Fairhaven’s revamped website has helped speed up transactions and keep person-to-person contact to a minimum. Customers can place their orders, pay in advance, then swing by and pop open their trunks.

Fortunately, even amid the pandemic, area shoppers can still take a short country drive and head home with a big basket of juicy cherries.

 

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Leslie David

Leslie David is a Bay Area independent reporter/producer and is a BenitoLink founding board member. She has produced for radio, television, newspaper and magazines in both California and Wyoming. She was with KRON-TV News in San Francisco as camera-woman, editor and field producer, where she won the Commonwealth Club's Thomas Storke Award with Linda Yee for their series on the Aids Epidemic. She started as a small market news reporter shooting her own 16mm film at KEYT-TV Santa Barbara. Leslie lives on a ranch with her family in San Benito County.