Mike Meyer Jr., is the youngest apple grower in Sonoma County and he’s proud of it. The 4th generation farmer said that being a farmer is tough work, but that he wouldn’t change a thing.
“Not many people can say that they enjoy what they do for a living,” Meyer said. “But I do. I was raised by great parents, Mike and Bobbie Meyer, and enjoyed growing up on an apple orchard with my younger brother, Kevin.”
He said he has many fond memories of growing up in the orchards, from running around with his friends and playing baseball to riding with his dad on the tractor. Now, he said he has the privilege to farm alongside him.
Meyer said that agriculture is at the core of his family. His great grandfather came to Sebastopol in 1947 and started raising chickens and a few apple trees, then his grandfather had a Christmas tree farm and now he and his dad are farming over 200 acres of certified organic apples in Sebastopol. For generations, the Meyer family has worked together to produce premium Sonoma County agricultural products.
“It takes the whole family to make our business work,” Meyer said. “My dad is the hardest working guy I know. He has taught my brother and me so much and to always take pride in what you do. He is always thinking of new ideas to grow the business.”
He said that the family business has come a long way and they are now producing over 3,000 tons of organic apples. In the future, they plan to begin making their own hard cider and apple juice.
In 2006, they took over a 12 acre lease of apples from Randy Roberts, who is also a 4th generation apple grower, and the neighboring orchard in 2006 for a total of 20 acres. Since then they have grown to farming over 200 acres and transitioned all orchards from conventional to organic.
“I put in a lot of early mornings and late nights,” Meyer said. “Without the help of my family, friends and many local apple growers we wouldn’t be where we are today. We are especially grateful for the help we have received from Randy Roberts, Dave and Dena Bondelie, Steve and Joe Dutton, Gary Braga and the Marshall family.”
He said that his favorite part about being a farmer is that he gets to walk outside of his house and he’s already at work. Once he’s there, no two days are the same.
“My day starts with meeting up with my crew to go over what needs to be done for the day and plans for the rest of the week,” Meyer said. “One thing is for sure though, whatever I may have planned, I always make sure to leave room for the unexpected. There seems to be always something that needs to be repaired.”
As the end of another harvest approaches, he always looks forward to delivering that last load of apples. Then, without skipping a beat, he starts planning for the next year.
Each year, one of their biggest ongoing challenges is labor. Even though he has great employees, he worries whether there will be enough of them to pick the crop he has worked all year to produce.
“Labor has always been hard to come by,” Meyer explained. “However, we have a great year-round crew. Some of our employees have been with us since the beginning.”
Harvest at Meyer Farming begins in July and it takes a hard working crew to get the crop picked.
“All 19 of our apple varieties are harvested by hand,” Meyer said. “We start picking Gravenstein apples, which once made Sebastopol known as the Gravenstein Apple Capital of the World, then we finish harvest by hand picking Pink Lady and Rome Beauty apples in late November or early December.”
The majority of Meyer Farming’s apples get processed at Manzana Products in Graton, which is the last apple cannery in Sonoma County. It has been a Sonoma County staple since 1922, producing apple juice, sauce, apple cider vinegar and other products. Meyer said they also sell a few varieties of apples to local hard cider companies like Golden State Cider and Ethic Cider.
Meyer said that he is a Farm Bureau member because the organization supports the local community and works to help keep agriculture present in the younger generation.
“The Farm Bureau keeps us well informed,” Meyer said. “Especially with the issues related to COVID-19. They continue to keep us updated on the many changing rules we needed to follow to protect our crew. Farm Bureau is an important part of our community and a part of keeping our business practices up to date and successful.”
In addition to the Farm Bureau, the Meyer family is involved with the Gravenstein Apple Fair held by the Sonoma County Farm Trails and the Local Apple Blossom Parade. He said they greatly enjoy being involved with the community.
Overall, Meyer said that he really enjoys the agricultural lifestyle and the deep farming history in this area. In his spare time, which isn’t often, he likes to swing by to see Dave and Dena Bondelie, who have been farming for many years in Sonoma County.
“I’ve learned a lot from Dave and really enjoy listening to him telling stories about the past in the apple industry,” Meyer said. “Boy things have changed!”
Although he said each year it seems like another apple orchard is ripped out and replaced with wine grapes, he is optimistic that there will always be a demand for organic apples to be grown in Sonoma County.
“Hopefully, the orchards that are left here will remain,” Meyer said. “People may not know that there was once more than 15,000 acres of apple orchards in Sonoma County and hundreds of farmers, and now there are less than 1,000 acres of apples remaining and less than a handful of apple farmers.”
In the last few years, Meyer Farming has expanded their orchards.
“In 2017, we replanted 1,000 new trees,” Meyer said. “As trees get old or die off, we replace them with another tree with standard rootstock.”
In the face of the many challenges of being a farmer, Meyer said that he chooses to have an optimistic attitude.
“If farming was easy, everyone would be doing it,” Meyer said. “There will always be some kind of challenges with farming, but I just take it day by day and know that everything will work out, it always does.”
Photo Credit: Dan Quinones Photography