Seeking the sweet life in Gold Country: part III

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(continued from part II)

Lewis’ grandmother still runs her mandarin business, and her uncle — Duane’s brother — runs his too. While they own their separate establishments, Duane Lewis says they often collaborate on ideas and best practices for improving their businesses. “It’s a family thing. My dad was raised on an almond orchard, so we learned (our skills) from him. My mom still owns the the business, but we all hold the ‘bragging rights’.”

Lynn Lewis says she is humbled by the the customers their business has brought in. “Sometimes I get emails and letters thanking me for shipping fruit off to someone for a customer. To me, I’m just doing my job, but it feels good to know that people appreciate the extra effort we make, and are gracious to let us know.” She loves hearing people referring to their mandarins as “mountain candy,” and she adds, “The little kids really like them.”

Krystal Ferry and Duane Lewis monitor mandarins for quality on the production belt.
Krystal Ferry and Duane Lewis on quality control.

The mandarins are not the only thing to like at the Newcastle Mandarin Ranch. They have diversified their fruit and provide many other products, such as three types of barbecue sauce along with syrup, marmalade, fruit spread and a kicky pepper sauce that will make you come back for seconds. They also sell local olive oil and raw honey from bees on their property. But Lewis warns, “Come and get them. The season only lasts until Christmas, so get them while you can.”

Russell Field and his bounty.
Russell Field and his bounty.

“Overall, this is a great business for us to have in our semi-retirement years,” says Lewis. “It’s super busy for a couple of months, but we get to enjoy a lot of downtime the rest of the year to travel, keep up with our activities and church, and live a life that’s rewarding and full.”

“I got into this as a hobby. My favorite part is the social aspect,” says Field. “This is my passion, along with pottery and my wife — not in that order of course. Family first.” He jests that his wife, Eileen Field, a retired registered nurse, is the “brains of the operation — I’m just the labor.” And after 15 years, she still enjoys the business too, even if it means much time is spent working in their garage during the winter.sweetLife

The Fields host a smaller operation. They sell straight mandarins only. No value-added products, no festivals, no shipping service. They prefer to keep things simple with a hobby farm, just to keep them busy. And busy they are, preparing for the season to hit. Eileen Field says, “It’s always a good time because it’s fun. We get to meet new people and see old friends.”

That’s what this whole semi-retirement business is about for them — the connections they make and the opportunity to socialize with others. Russell Field says they enjoy really taking the time to talk to their customers and get to know them, find out where they are from, what they do. He says he never knows who he will meet on any given day. He’s even had customers show up who, unbeknownst to him, knew Eileen’s parents. It’s those small-world experiences that keep them doing this, and the customers keep coming back.

“It’s about price point, product and personality,” says Russel. “If you have a good product at a good price, people will come. I just put out a sign. That’s how you sell. And remember that the customer is always right.”

These semi-retirees are changing what the Golden Years looks like in the Gold Country. For retirees today it’s about using their talents and creating a business that keeps their minds as active as their bodies. “It’s not about looking to get rich — it’s about living a rewarding life,” sums up Russell Field as he looks out over his vast orchard with a smile. “This is as good as it gets, and it is good.”

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