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Ranch offers unique fruit worldwide
Finger limes specialty of 'Buck Brand'
When it comes to farming, Lisle Babcock of Terra Bella prides himself in being on the cutting edge of ranching and specializing in wild fruit, while always offering his customers the best possible fruit. Much of the fruit is supplied to Canada and sold under the “Buck Brand” label.
“I was a biology major and have always been interested in growing stuff and finding the latest thing and tasting it,” Babcock said. “I specialize in flavor, not quantity. We’re all about taste. We have 65 different types of Citrus and market 58 of them.”
Babcock, and his wife, Marylou, a retired school teacher, own Deer Creek Heights Ranch in Terra Bella, where they grow oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, pomelos, tangerines, kumquats, including numerous new, wild and unique fruits.
Among some of the most unique is the Finger Limes, a fruit that originated in Australia and needs similar climates to flourish.
Often referred to as Citrus Caviar, the Citrus of Caviar or Caviar Lime, the fruit is 2-t0 3-inches long limes, slightly curved and vary in color from reddish to green, depending on the age and size of the tree, Babcock said.
Thee fruit, when cut open, spills tiny caviar-like bubbles of acidic and tangy flavor. The beads can be squeezed out gently and added to drinks or used as a relish.
“We were the first to grow these in North America,” Babcock said. “We started in 2007. Once we have an order, we pick and ship within 48 hours.”
The fruit is year round and graded by size. And though they have 300 of the trees that are three, four and five years of age, Babcock said it is still a learning process.
“We’re on the cutting edge. We’re learning as we go. Nothing is ever the same,” he said. “We’re just now starting to get the volume and are introducing it to the California market.”
Currently the Finger Limes and other specialty fruits are shipped to Chicago, New York, and Europe, and a first shipment heading for Japan.
The family-owned citrus ranch is also an organic grower and utilizes processes that produce fruit unlike any packing house in the industry, Babcock said.
“Most farmers around here store fruit on end. We keep our cold room almost empty. We only pick what we are going to ship.”
The operation on the ranch is vertical, Babcock said, with all irrigation, picking and packing done in-house.
“We grow it, pick it, pack it and ship it,” he said. “We do it all ourselves. We almost have no choice if we want to make a profit.”
But there are pros to his method, he said.
“We control everything — what we do, when we grow, when we pick,” Babcock said. “It’s a heck of a lot of work.”
In addition, the ranch uses a gaseous ozone to sanitize and fumigate the product of any bacteria. The process reduces sanitation time, labor costs, hot water consumption and harmful chemicals, said ranch manager Mark Fazzone.
Finger limes also offer an approximate 10-day picking flexibility, Fazzone said.
“We’ve been in contact with one of the largest Australian crop growers and they have been telling us they have been in the business for 10 years and still don’t know what they’ll get each year,” Fazzone said.
The same thing has been happening at Deer Creek Heights, said Babcock. He has Fazzone monitoring and cataloging the trees’ patterns, trying to figure out the tree from bloom to maturity.
Each leaf axle will produce a flower at a different time and the tree will produce fruit every 10 days to two weeks — permitting fruit picking 40 times a year.
“Every tree is different. They all mature different,” Babcock said. “This is so new that we don’t know much about them. Because it is a wild plant, there is a high chance of getting variations.”
Babcock, who has been farming since his teen years, has a natural frost-free ranch — with the higher elevations on the ranch used for the more sensitive fruits.
Other products grown include the Kaffir Lime — a wild, lumpy fruit.
The Calamondin, a native fruit of the Philippine Islands, is a miniature orange that can be eaten with its skin on.
The ranch also grows Buddhist Hand fruit — an odd looking, and one of the oldest citrus-family fruits that has no juice.
“It’s all zest and used to make Buddhist Vodka. It’s very expensive and found mainly in boutiques,” Babcock said.
The ranch’s musambi or “Sweet Limes” help cancer victims feel better.
“It makes the body less acidic and cancer cells don’t like that,” he said.
The Etrog, a non-edible citrus fruit is sold to the Jewish community for their Festival of Lights.
His torange fruit is the largest lemon-type fruit grown and comes from Iraq. It is a lemon without any bitterness and used by the French to make lemon-meringue pies.
“It’s more sensitive in taste and texture,” he said.
Some of the pomelos, such as the Shaddock, is a unique fruit that can double as a room freshener due to its pleasant, subtle fragrance.
The ranch has numerous such interesting fruits and has been featured on “Pitching in” — a Canadian food-network program.
“If they want it, we have it,” Babcock said as a reason for growing so many different varieties of citrus.
Some of the fruit is grown for fun and experimentation, such as his pitaya fruit and pink blue berries.
“We do this for fun. I like new stuff just to keep life interesting,” he said.
But what really makes his ranch successful, he said, is his employees — many of whom have a stake in the ranch.
“The most important thing is that we have the right guys to do the work,” Babcock said. “Mark Fazzone will be overseeing sales and public relations. We all work together. There is no boss here.”
To learn more about the ranch, visit www.deercreekheightsranch.com.
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.