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It’s Time to Pick Apricots at Sunnyvale’s Orchard Heritage Park

At Sunnyvale’s Orchard Heritage Park, the apricots are now being picked. Some apricots are sold whole. Some are made into jam and syrups. Some are cut and dried out in the sun. All these apricot goods end up at the orchard fruit stand in the parking lot near the Sunnyvale Community Center.

Since 6:30 a.m. on a recent June day, workers from the orchard have been cutting apricots in half and taking out their pits to prepare the fruit to be dried. It will take more time and labor before they are ready for sale as dried apricots.

“Depending on the weather, these apricots sit out in the sun for five to six days,” said Farmer Charlie Olson from Orchard Heritage Park. “We have to scrape the trays, sort the apricots, grade the apricots to size them, and then you have to wash them and then pack them. It takes six pounds of fresh Blenheim apricots to make one pound of dried apricots for sale.”

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According to Olson, the 10-acre orchard at Orchard Heritage Park holds 800 apricot trees. So the workers picking the apricots from the trees face an arduous task.

“To pick the apricots, you have to be willing to work outside, be patient and to pick the fruit when it’s ripe,” said Olson, who pointed out that apricots are ripe when the shoulders of the fruit are orange and not green.

Olson, a long-time resident of Sunnyvale, has been maintaining the orchard’s fruit trees since 1977 through an agreement with the City of Sunnyvale.

“We barricade them. We prune them. We spray them. We water them. We cultivate the ground. We cut them. We dry them. And we sell them,” Olson said of the trees and the fruit they yield. “The one thing that has remained constant and will never change is the work that makes the crop. We have planted and replanted trees two or three times when they die. Right now, we are in a phase where we are planting more trees every year. This orchard is over 42 years old.”

While fruit orchards once made up a significant part of Santa Clara Valley’s landscape, they are now a rarity here in Silicon Valley. Laura Babcock, Director and Founder of Sunnyvale Heritage Park Museum, offered some historical insight about how Orchard Heritage Park has managed to stick around.

“The land for Orchard Heritage Park was purchased by the City of Sunnyvale in the late 1970s for the development of the Community Center,” Babcock said. “At the time, they only used about 13-and-a-half acres to build the buildings in the Community Center, which left 10 acres for fruit trees. Right now, they’re apricot trees.

“The reason the orchard has stayed and not been developed is that in the 1990s, we in the Sunnyvale Historical Society and Museum Association petitioned the City to have this orchard be listed as an agricultural park,” continued Babcock. “The petition was successful. In the 1990s, the City of Sunnyvale designated these 10 acres as Orchard Heritage Park and it remains so today.”

The orchard fruit stand is open when cherries and apricots are available for sale. Call Elisabeth Maurer at (408) 891-1753 to confirm when the fruit stand is open this summer.

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