Harvest of the first California cherries is starting early this week. “We suspect climate change has resulted in changing micro-climates in the state of California and over the last 10-15 years, we’ve been able to start harvest earlier and earlier,” says Chris Medeiros, General Manager with Meena Farms.
The company’s farms are located along the I-5 corridor near Santa Nella and Gustine in the middle of the Central Valley. The presence of a coastal mountain range makes for a unique micro-climate, providing heat during the day and a coastal breeze that cools off the cherries at night. “This type of weather bodes well for cherries and about 20 years ago, I saw the potential,” says Lax Iyer, the company’s owner and president.
Cherry harvest for Meena Farms won’t start with big volumes, but they will be steady. “Around May 10-15, we will start to see increased volumes throughout the state, consistent with our supplies,” said Medeiros, who is expecting volume for the Merced County area to be up this year. Usually, harvest in the Merced region continues until the end of May. “This year’s cherry quality is expected to be excellent,” said Iyer, provided the weather holds.
Consistent quality and large size
Although Meena Farms has been around for only 20 years, the company has become well known for its cherries, both domestically and internationally. What is the key to success? “It’s a combination of a few things,” shared Medeiros. “First of all, consistency and uniformity of our fruit make for a high-quality cherry. Alongside with quality, warm days and cool nights result in large size cherries with a high brix level. Last but not least, the consistent earliness of our blocks differentiates us from other regions.”
Meena Farms is a family-owned company, named after the owner’s mother Meena. “We are a small, family-run operation that consists of just one grower. However, we are a grower, co-packer, marketer, and exporter in one, verifying every step of the process.”
Exporter for high-end business
The company used to distribute its cherries to various packing sheds in the state and was just focusing on the growing side of the business. “However, three years ago, a friend from South Korea started with an order of three pallets of cherries,” said Iyer. “That’s how our export business started.” In the meantime, Meena Farms has started custom pack partnerships with several packing sheds in the area while maintaining key past packing relationships.
“We handle the export side of the business and our partners take care of the domestic business.” In just three short years, Meena Farms has developed itself into a boutique custom packer/exporter that focuses on the high-end business. “We went from South Korea to 23 different countries," commented. A few new markets may be added to the country list this year, but the main markets will continue to be in Southeast Asia, South Korea, the Middle East, Canada, and Australia. Quality of fruit is key for the export market and already at the field level, it is being determined which cherries are suitable to be exported. “I feel moving into the export business and handling the exports of our own farms has made us better farmers,” said Medeiros. “We have oversight over our lots and the focus on quality for the end-user ultimately results in bringing a better cherry to market.”
Meena Farms grows about 15 different cherry varieties with Coral Champagne being the company’s signature variety. Royal Hazels and Garnets are two other key varieties that make up the company’s top three main varieties.