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Farmer not reaping all the benefits of apricot orchard


Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/town crier
Photo Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

People illegally picking apricots from city-owned trees deprive the orchard’s caretaker.

The apricot orchard surrounding the Los Altos Civic Center is owned by the city, but fruit poachers have stymied the farmer who tends to it.

The city has contracted the cultivation and harvest of the California Blenheim apricot trees to San Jose farmer Don Speciale since 1970. In return, Speciale reaps the proceeds from the sale of the apricots, many of which are now ripe for the picking.

But Speciale hasn’t been able to maximize his profits, according to Erica Ray, public information coordinator, because people often pick the apricots illegally.

“I, myself, have seen people in the orchard picking fruit or, in one case, an entire branch off one of Don’s trees,” said Ray, who added that Speciale earns a substantial portion of his income from apricot sales.

Although the city posts “Do Not Pick” signs along the perimeter of the orchard during the apricot harvest – typically between the end of May and the beginning of July – Speciale said he often notices that some of his fruit has disappeared.

Ray said city hall staffers have approached those caught in the act of petty theft, alerting them to the signs, but they can’t stop everyone.

She noted that Speciale – who has spent many early-morning hours plowing and pruning the orchard – deserves the fruits of his labor.

“He’s a very hard worker, even in his elder years,” she said. “I think that if the public knew they weren’t picking the city’s apricots, they might think twice before picking (them).”

Anyone interested in purchasing the apricots can find them at the De Martini Orchard, 66 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos.

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