Offbeat L.A.: Cherry Oh Baby- It’s Cherry Picking Season in Leona Valley

Cherry season in Southern California! (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Cherry season in Southern California (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

A cherry tree at Copeland's Orchard (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

A cherry tree at Copeland’s Orchard (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

We are long blessed in Southern California to be considered a land of plenty and abundance. Sweetly enticing fresh fruit and produce grown under our baby blue skies has long been a draw to the area surrounding Los Angeles. Sadly, orange orchards that once stretched far and wide over our region have mostly been replaced with strip malls and housing complexes. Luckily backyard fruit trees are still common, but the experience of walking into an orchard, inhaling the musky scent of farm earth and picking a bucket full of fresh fruit occurs less and less. The good news is that the experience CAN be found and usually within an hour or two drive. Following the seasons is key, because they are sometimes brief and the window for picking can pass quickly by. Right now, the months of June and July are literally ripe for mouthwatering cherries picked straight from the tree, and only about an hour’s drive east from L.A. in Leona Valley.

Leona Valley (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Leona Valley (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Leona Valley is a small community located 10 miles west of Palmdale, nestled between scrubby mountains at an elevation of 3,500 feet. Originally filled with cattle ranches, it has transitioned over the years to become the home to 15 cherry orchards. Quaint and picturesque, this area gets snow in the winter, almost a necessity for cherry trees which require 700 hours a year of below freezing temperatures to bear fruit. Here there are an abundance of orchards to choose from. From small Mom & Pop size farms where you can chat with the owners, to the Villa del Sol orchard that boasts 3,600 cherry trees, there is an orchard to fit everyone’s personality. Regulars return year after year to the farm of their choosing.

Buckets to hold cherries sit next to a list of Copeland's varieties (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Buckets to hold cherries sit next to a list of Copeland’s varieties (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Based on a few friends who return yearly I chose Copeland’s Cherry Ranch, the only certified organic orchard of the bunch. Most of the others claim to be pesticide free and state that they do not spray poison onto the fruit, so the distinction may not be that major. My attitude was mainly that I was doing this for the experience and that coming away with a sweet and luscious bag of cherries that I picked myself was merely a bonus. Copeland’s was opened 15 years ago by the husband and wife team David and Chari Copeland. I got to meet and chat with friendly and informative Chari, who assured me that her first name and business of choice were merely a coincidence.

The author works the farm (photo by Thomas Kreuzer)

The author works the farm (photo by Thomas Kreuzer)

Chari instructed us on the art of cherry picking: grab a bucket, look for the tags labeling the different types of cherry varieties, pick the fruit while leaving the stem on the tree as not to destroy the branch and most importantly taste to your heart’s delight. Cherries will be weighed by the pound ($4.50 per pound this year) and paid for at the end. Oh, and no matter how tempted you might be, no climbing in the trees… Although I am not always a good girl, I respected Chari’s no climbing rule and had a most amazing time. I came away with a big bag of sweet and tart deliciousness to be eaten plain, used in a pie and added to the mix of my homemade sangria.

Copeland's sign (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Copeland’s sign (photo by Nikki Kreuzer)

Cherry season is short, so make sure you catch it while it is still here. Before you go make sure to call the 24- hour hotline for the Leona Valley Cherry Grower’s Association to find out which orchards are doing picking.

Leona Valley Cherry Grower’s Association hotline: (661) 261-1116. www.cherriesupic.com

Copeland’s Cherry Ranch: 9611 Leona Ave., Leona Valley, CA 93551. (661) 270-1900.  www.copelandscherryranch.com

 

 

Nikki Kreuzer

About Nikki Kreuzer

Nikki Kreuzer has been a Los Angeles resident for over 30 years. When not working her day job in the film & TV industry, she spends her time over many obsessions, mainly music, art and exploring & photographing the oddities of the city she adores. So far she has written 110 Offbeat L.A. articles, published at the Los Angeles Beat. As a journalist she contributes regularly to LA Weekly, Blurred Culture and has also been published by Oddee.com, Twist Magazine, Strobe and Not For Hire. Nikki is also a mosaic artist, radio DJ and published photographer. Her photography has been featured in exhibit at the Museum of Neon Art, in print at the LA Weekly and in exhibit at the Neutra Museum in Los Angeles. She has recorded with the band Nikki & Candy as bassist, vocalist and songwriter, directing and appearing in the 'Sunshine Sunshine Santa Claus' music video for the band. She co-hosted the monthly radio show Bubblegum & Other Delights on Dublab.com for over two years. Her acting credits include a recent role in the ABC-TV show 'For The People', 'Incident at Guilt Ridge', 'Two and a Half Men', the film 'Minority Report' and 'Offbeat L.A.', a web series, written and hosted by Nikki Kreuzer. Her writing, radio and video portfolio can be found at OffbeatLA.com, her photography work @Lunabeat on Instagram and her music history posts @NikkiKreuzer on Twitter. Find Nikki & Candy music on iTunes, Amazon or at NikkiandCandy.com.
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