Bella Ridge Farm
A bit south of the pretty little town of Occidental, in the forested hills that are increasingly cleared for vineyards, there is an oasis of history: a two-acre orchard of 200 apple trees and 100 European and Asian pear trees of heirloom and rare varieties. Yet Bella Ridge, as both the orchard and the region are known, is not a heritage farm. Ted Richardson (who teaches reading at Salmon Creek Elementary School) began planting his trees just 20 years ago, when he and his wife, Michele Larkin (who teaches Spanish at El Molino High School) moved there from Graton. He is still planting today. “There are seven vineyards on Taylor Lane. We’re the only orchard,” he says.
Bella Ridge has been certified organic since 2008 and was registered organic before then. It’s a challenge to farm apples and pears organically, Richardson says, and he has planted a number of disease-resistant varieties developed at Cornell University. He’s also been able to control apple worms with pheromones. He has noticed a significant increase in demand for organic apples since the release of the 2013 Documentary “Dirty Dozen,” which put apples at the top of the list of produce contaminated by residual pesticides. The couple takes care to plant cover crops, companion plants, medicinals for natural pesticides, and flowers that attract pollinators—to keep the entire ecosystem healthy, not just the trees.
Ted Richardson’s passion and steadfast focus is clear: protecting apple and pear diversity in our world, “so we can preserve a wide variety of these magical flavors for our future generations.” To date, Bella Ridge grows 80+ varieties of apples with a diverse range of flavor sensations and taste profiles. Here are just a mouthful of names to get your flavor imagination running: Akane, Sansa, Pink Pearl, Ginger Gold, Hawaii, Mutsu, Piñata, Macoun, Northern Spy, Winesap, Bell de Boskoop, Roxbury Russet, Yellow Bellflower, Sierra Beauty, Arkansas Black, White Winter Permain, Idared... Some of these varieties are available for just a week, others last a month and longer. Stop by and say hello to Ted and Michele at the Occidental Farmers Market (Friday), the Santa Rosa Original Farmers Market (Saturday), or the Sebastapol Farmers Market (Sundays) for some tastings