Some businesses attain success by finding a niche and filling it. Others go for the shotgun effect
and spread out into all types of endeavors. And then there’s Stephens Farmhouse on Highway
99 south of Yuba City.

Cherie Stephens, co-owner of Stephens Farmhouse with her husband, Jeff, sells tasty treats at their store on Highway 9

miles south of Yuba City. She also produces specialty-labeled jams sold at Yosemite, Tahoe and Sunsweet, for which sh designed the labels and marketed as well as makes the jam. John Hollis/Appeal-Democrat

Area residents know them for their delicious pies and other tasty goodies, but what most
people don’t know is how husband-and-wife owners Jeff and Cherie Stephens have branched
out around their core food business.

“Business is ‘evolutional,'” Cherie Stephens said. “If you’re going to be around for a long period,
you have to change with the times. This business started as a fruit stand and now it’s a lot more
than that. We do some catering and make dog treats. We also have our specialty-labeled jams
for Tahoe, Yosemite and Sunsweet as well as sell organic peaches for Gerber baby food.”
“I see it as more of a multi-pronged attack at how to think out of the box. If you’re just waiting
for people to come in through the door, you feel out of control in this economy,” she said.

“A number of years ago Jeff tried growing peaches organically. He was told by everyone, from
the top of the industry down, that it couldn’t be done because peaches are so susceptible to
brown rot and fungus and all kinds of problems that go along with growing peaches. But he
thought he’d try it anyway,” recounted Cherie. “It so happens that we have a 25-acre block
that’s in a micro-environment that works. He really surprised everyone that it could be done.”
Jeff Stephens explained that the next step took place in 1999 when the agricultural co-op Tri
Valley Growers went into bankruptcy. “Because Tri Valley went broke, we lost a (processing)
home for our peaches. No one was taking organic while Gerber was looking for organic baby
food for its Tender Harvest brand.”

“Gerber originally said that they would take a certain portion of the orchard, but when we
started delivering, it went from ‘we’ll take a portion’ to ‘we’ll take everything,'” Cherie added.
“Now Gerber, because their organic market hasn’t grown that much, takes about 20 to 30
percent of our organic crop. The rest gets sold off for pies and other things.”

  1. Buffer around the organic trees
  2. Recordkeeping to show organic practices
  3. Organically clean machinery
  4. Organically clean containers, especially after holding conventional fruit
  5. Annual audit by the CCOF
  6. License by the state and CCOF

It takes years to become a certified organic grower, Cherie explained. “It’s a three-year process
where you have to confirm each year that you are not using anything that is not approved by
the CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers).”
Jeff said that for a crop to be organic there are certain requirements:

“More than anything, it’s recordkeeping and knowing what you can apply,” he said, adding that
they’ve been certified organic since 2002.
But it’s not just the cultivating and harvesting that are subject to organic standards — the
cannery must be as well.
“What people don’t realize is that there are three things that have to be in place to put an
organic peach in the jar,” Cherie said. “The cannery has to be small enough to be able to shut
down for the organic line because there’s such a small run. The cannery has to be certified
organic. And the cannery has to have a peach pitter — that’s about a million-dollar piece of
equipment. If they don’t have all three, you can’t process organic peaches through that

Jeff explained that conventional peaches bring in about $350 per ton while organics sell for
about $500 per ton. “We do make more profit off organics, but we’re only able to grow in a
small area that’s in a microclimate that has few pests.”
According to Cherie, organic tonnage is higher than conventional tonnage per acre, because
with conventional peach crops, the consumer wants prettier peaches, meaning more fruit have
to be discarded; consumers of organic peaches accept variations in look, thus saving more of
the crop.

“We are at a point that this orchard (age-wise) needs to go. But it’s done so well for us, and as
long as Gerber wants to continue contracting with us, we won’t take it out,” she said.

Privately labeled jams
“When I first came up with the private packaging label that I developed, the first market I went
after was Yosemite National Park,” Cherie said. “I went after them because I saw products in
the park that didn’t reflect the area like huckleberry jam from Montana and other products that
aren’t native to California. So I said, ‘OK, if they’re open to the idea of bringing in local products
— I make jam — why shouldn’t they sell my jam?’

“It took me about a year of constant back and forth, making contact with the right person,
giving more information, going a little further along and hitting a roadblock, but then I finally
met the buyer for the park’s concessionaire — Delaware North Corp.,” said Cherie.
“Once I got in at Yosemite, it really opened the door. Then I went to Tahoe and Hyatt picked us
up. And they’ve asked us to do other things for them,” she said. “It all goes back to the packing
— because while it’s a quality product, it’s the packaging that makes it a souvenir.”
“The appeal is that when someone goes someplace, they want to take something home with
them that’s from that area. Plus, this is a quality product and has been marketed to that
specific area, and cost-wise the tourist can feel comfortable spending $6 or $7 on a jar of jam
and they can consume it, as opposed to a sticker or T-shirt. Or they can take it home as a gift,”
Cherie said.

She added that the Tahoe jam’s label has “amazing facts” about Tahoe, the inside of the
Sunsweet jam’s label sports a history of Sunsweet, and the Yosemite labels have write-ups that
describe some stereotypes of people who go there — Nature Lover, Hiker Chick, Adventure
Addict, etc. “I’ve had very easy success with cold calls when I decide to go to an area to sell the

Cherie is proud of the design because it’s all her work — she designs the packaging, markets it,
and makes the jam as well. The one thing she doesn’t do is distribute it. She uses a firm in
Fresno to handle that.
At this time Stephens Farm is selling seven flavors of jam at Yosemite, six in Tahoe and four to
The Stephenses are also providing two new products to the national park: roasted walnuts and
raw walnuts, both in a biodegradable container. “They just picked up this product,” she said.

A little history
Cherie said that Jeff’s grandmother Vera was the person who started it all by growing melons
back in 1964. She grew so many that she couldn’t give them all away, so she started selling
them at a stand on Highway 99. “Her goal, when she first started selling (the melons), was to
provide her four grandchildren with $100 each for school clothes.”
“In 2001, we bought out Johnson’s stand at the corner of Highway 99 and Garden Highway and
then moved here the same year,” Jeff said.
“What we have is a multi-marketing approach to getting out in the forefront — and that helps
us,” Cherie said.
That and the public’s desire for local farm-fresh products.
“That’s good for business,” Jeff added.
CONTACT John Hollis at 741-2400 or

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