Butte County Agriculture: Sowing Quality and Innovation
With agricultural roots reaching back to the earliest innovations in California farming, Butte County today is still home to farms, large and small, carrying on the legacy of quality and innovation that has existed in Butte County for more than 150 years, producing some of the state’s best olive oils, fruit, rice and nuts.
Almonds, Walnuts & Other Nuts
Chico’s founder, John Bidwell, is known as “a founding father of modern California agriculture.” He championed diversified commercial agriculture, pioneered the growth of the almond and walnut industry, and grew his ranch into a model of California’s farm industry in the second half of the 19th century.
Long after John Bidwell, almonds and other tree nuts continue to flourish in Butte County. For five generations, Sohnrey Family Foods in Oroville has been growing almonds, walnuts, rice, and prunes and selling high-quality consumer products while focusing on stewardship of the lands they tend. They generate renewable energy for their farm and food manufacturing facility through two solar panel systems and use drones and orchard moisture sensors to reduce their water usage, among other conservation efforts.
You can also buy almonds and other nut products from Maisie Jane’s California Sunshine Products. A third-generation almond-farmer’s daughter, Maisie Jane began roasting nuts in the family kitchen at 17, and the company grew from a college project into a sustainable business. For a seasonal treat, head to Harrison’s California Chestnuts to buy chestnuts directly from the growers during the fall harvest.
Olive oil production in Oroville is thanks to another 19th century agriculture pioneer: Freda Ehmann, an Oroville farmer who launched California’s olive industry by perfecting a process to preserve the fruit for shipment in 1898. Today, multiple local olive oil producers build on Ehmann’s legacy. Lodestar Farms offers award-winning olive oils from their Mission olive groves with a distinct regional flavor. Fertile volcanic soil combined with a Mediterranean climate makes Oroville an ideal location for the Mission olives, with 75% of their production in the country located in the Oroville area, including from other local favorites Butte View Olive Oil and TLC Olive Oil.
In Oroville, you’ll also find the Mother Orange Tree, the oldest living orange tree in Northern California, planted in 1856. The success of its planting set off a rush to plant more orange trees in the second half of the 19th century. Today, the local industry that remains is small but persistent, with local Satsuma mandarin growers, such as Mt. Ida Mandarin Ranch, Tri-L Mandarin Ranch, and Doering’s Mandarins selling seasonally from their farms and farmers markets.
With warm weather and water-retaining adobe soil, Butte County is also a fertile area for growing rice, with Richvale particularly suited for growing the crop. Of the more than 400 rice growers in the county, the Richvale-based Lundberg Family Farms is the most well-known. Founded in 1937 with sustainability and stewardship at its core, the rice growing family continues to build on this legacy, receiving the 2020 Rodale Institute’s Organic Pioneer Award for their innovative work in organic farming, use of renewable energy, and TRUE Zero Waste certification.
South of Chico, on the east bank of the Sacramento River, Rancho Llano Seco is a sixth-generation family run farm that is situated on one of the last intact Mexican land grant properties from 1845. It responsibly and humanely raises pigs and cows—using best practices as certified by Global Animal Partnership—as well as grows heirloom beans and ancient grains.
The long history of farming and ranching in Butte County has largely continued through family-led endeavors spanning generations, but newcomers also do their part to build on the area’s agricultural legacy. Already making a name for itself, relative newcomer Milk & Honey 1860 sells goat’s milk lotions and balms as well as fleece and woolen products from their Civil War-era farm.