Side Hill Citrus Farm agrees to conservation easement
By: Gus Thomson of the Auburn Journal
Rural Placer County mandarin grower Rich Ferreira said he’s seen the land around him slowly gentrified over his lifetime.
With deep roots in the soil that grows mandarins, lemons and other citrus crops so well in the foothills, Ferreira decided that, at 61, he could take a small stand on his own land.
And four years after initially starting the process of creating a conservation easement for the 47-acre Side Hill Citrus Farm, between Auburn and Lincoln, the work has been done, just as the final mandarins of the season are being picked.
Ferreira has a total of 2,400 mandarin trees on 24 acres. He also harvests Meyer lemons and grapefruit for a market for fresh, locally grown, organic citrus that extends into the Bay Area.
Ferreira also has family and history to draw on as he farms.
“My dad and my mom were born here,” Ferreira said. “My grandmother was born in Newcastle. I feel a deep connection to the area. Although I appreciate my neighbors and customers, I don’t see how farming can go on much longer with the gentrification taking place, with the land being split up into smaller pieces.”
On Tuesday, Ferreira loaded 200, 25-pound boxes of Meyer lemons from the orchard to ship to a Bay Area distributor he’s been doing business with for 20 years. He recently opened a stand to sell locally in Newcastle at the intersection of Old State Highway and Highway 193 that he said has done remarkably well.
But he also recently turned 65 and noted that he signed up for Medicare.
“One of my main goals is to make this place profitable to make it worthwhile for my kids or someone else to continue it in the future,” Ferreira said.
With funding from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, the Emigrant Trails Greenway Trust and Placer County totaling nearly $300,000 to purchase the easement to prevent lot-splits or encroaching development while preserving oak woodland, Ferreira waived $20,000 of the price as a good-faith gesture.
Jeff Darlington, executive director of the Placer Land Trust, said the non-profit helped facilitate the sale but didn’t participate in the agreement because of Ferreira’s membership on the board.
“The county owns the easement and purchased it from Rich,” Darlington said. “I think it’s really remarkable for one of our board members to walk the walk, so to speak. He’s gone through the process himself and actually permanently protected land.”
Darlington said staff has searched the Internet to see if any other mandarin orchard anywhere else in the world has also received similar protection. Nothing was found, indicating Side Hill Ranch could be the world’s first protected mandarin orchard, he said.
“Placer County is known for its mandarins,” Darlington said. “We have a very special product here, among many others. To have one of those orchards, which I describe as producing a natural wonder, now under a conservation easement is an asset to the community.”