Brad Squires and Matt Brunner wondered what would happen to the agricultural land that housed Tom Tomich Orchards — the sole remaining commercial fruit operation in Orangevale — when the business shuttered in 2017. Would that really be the end of an era?
Then when the owner Tom Tomich died in July 2018 at age 93, the family put the land up for sale, and what had been a casual conversation between Orangevale residents Squires and Brunner quickly turned into a formal bid on the property. In September 2018, Squires and Brunner beat out three other offers to buy the 10-acre fruit orchard. The new owners named the land Prosper Orchard to honor the legacy of Tom’s parents, Prosper and Eleanor Tomich, who planted their first trees there in 1911. They named their business Orangevale Fruit Co.
Since taking over, Squires and Brunner have been focused on heavy pruning, leveling the ground, and hanging lines and sprinklers for a major drip-irrigation project. “Ninety-five percent of the elephant has been eaten,” Brunner says of getting the orchard healthy again. “It’s a big task.” They also double planted (adding a tree between other trees in a row), ripping out 100 trees and planting 1,000 more for about 2,000 total. The orchard produces more than 40 varieties of stone fruit — mostly peaches, plums and nectarines, along with apricots, persimmons, figs, apples and pomegranates. Harvest began in June and runs until October.
“It’s a huge thing to do this, but it’s going really well, and the community has just been 110 percent behind us,” Squires says. “No one says this is a bad idea. We’ll see how it goes as we start selling the fruit and make sure it all works out. Double planting is part of our strategy to be profitable, just increasing our yield.”
The new owners are incorporating different techniques than were used in the past. Instead of disc cultivation, for instance, which turns the soil to control weeds — but doesn’t leave organic matter in the soil — they plan to mow the weeds, which involves “a little more effort,” Squires says. “However, in the long run it’s best for soil health and moisture retention.” They’re committed to using sustainable farming practices that sequester carbon, maintain soil health, reduce erosion and introduce nutrients via cover cropping. “It’s been fun to see the big turnaround and rewarding to take this orchard from what it was to what it’s about to become,” Brunner says.
The owners are still figuring out where they’ll sell the produce in addition to the Orangevale Farmers’ Market. They plan to open a farmstand and are working with a couple local grocery stores to carry their product. They plan to host farm-to-fork dinners at the orchard and U-pick events where people glean their own fruit. They eventually want to create a branch-to-box subscription service. Orangevale Fruit Co. is donating 10 percent of proceeds to the Community Foundation of Orangevale and Fair Oaks, where Squires is chairman of the board. He is also president of the Orangevale Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, Squires and his wife, Megan, own the 12-acre Heirloom Acres Farm about a mile from the orchard and live with their children in a 1940s house on the property. Brunner and his wife, Marga den Hoed, own the 2.6-acre Common Kettle Farm, also nearby, and live in a home built in 1918.
For Brunner and Squires, keeping the historic orchard alive is about more than one plot of land. It’s about preserving the community’s agricultural history and continuing to be a source of pride for residents. “This is tied into our rural roots, and it’s something special for Orangevale,” Squires says. “Our vision would be that it inspires other people to take on projects like this in Orangevale that are ag related. Hopefully, that becomes more a part of who we are again.”