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Take your pick

Cherries and peaches are ripe and ready to pick at SunSmile Farms, located just two miles outside of Grass Valley on 70 acres of rolling orchards and garden plots.

George Loftus has been raising crops on the property since he was a boy. After managing the farm from the Bay Area for a few years while his grandma continued to live on the property, he returned home permanently in 1993.

He’ll be 45 next month and says the farm is completely different from the one his uncle Joel Bierwagen managed until the 1970s.



The family bought the SunSmile label during the ’50s when a co-op of 260 growers went belly up after a pear blight swept through the county. The SunSmile name is more than 100 years old, Loftus said.

The farm has been using organic farming methods for years, Loftus said, but is now going through the process of becoming certified organic.




“It’s a nightmare of paperwork,” Loftus said. Despite the headache of documenting everything down to the seed sources, Loftus says the certification is worth it because it’s important to some of his customers who want that stamp of approval.

Loftus is among a growing number of farmers who have found it profitable to bring the community to the farm rather than sell to buyers outside the county.

“Now we’re trying to get people to come out to the farm. I do a lot of U-pick,” said Loftus.

This year there is a bumper crop of cherries that are ripe and hanging off the trees. Last week’s hailstorm caused an estimated $20,000 worth of damage to the cherries and produce, but there is still more than enough food to go around, Loftus said.

There are 18 acres of vegetables alone at SunSmile.

“I have 10,000 tomatoes, and I’m still planting,” Loftus said. He specializes in heirloom tomatoes and melons and has more than 50 varieties, he said. Customers are given a melon guarantee.

“We’re selling flavor here. It’s ripe fruit,” Loftus said.

Loftus also planted blueberry, blackberry and red, black and purple raspberry bushes this year.

Going to SunSmile Farms to pick cherries on Father’s Day has become a tradition for families in recent years, Loftus said.

“It’s an experience. That’s what we’re basically selling here is an experience,” Loftus said.

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To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail laurab@theunion.com or call 477-4231.

When to go

• The U-Pick operation is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday in June.

• The farm stand is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.

• Call the SunSmile Farm hotline at 273-6507 to get updated information (it changes weekly) or leave a message if you would like to schedule a day during the week to come out to the farm to pick fresh produce.

• Visit the farm’s Web site at: http://www.sunsmilefarms.com

How to get there

From Grass Valley, take West Main Street until it becomes Rough and Ready Highway. Follow the road for 1.8 miles, then turn left on West Drive. Follow the signs.


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