Marion Bogdanich holds up a glass jar for me to read: “Hot ‘Cot Pepper Sauce.” Next to it stands a smaller “Sassy Peach Salsa.”
Sassy peaches and spicy apricots? Who wouldn’t be intrigued?
Marion is the farmer of SunBlest Orchards, who makes the hour plus trek to the Belmont Farmers Market every Sunday all the way from Patterson, Calif., which he describes as “The Valley.”
His 30-acre family farm grows apricots, peaches, tomatoes, plums and even pluots (a plum and apricot hybrid). During the off-season when the fruit is waiting for that warm sun, SunBlest innovatively sells dried fruits, roasted nuts and jam preserves.
“We have a lot of unique products that you can’t really get anywhere else,” says Marion.
Among their attitude personified fruit are products that mix the sweet and spicy together, like habanero ketchup for those that may not like the taste of regular ketchup. In fact, a woman piped in when looking at some of the jars: “Oh good, because I don’t like things real sweet.”
The farm now only direct markets instead of selling wholesale. Like other farmers that I’ve spoken with at the market, they gave up because the profit was too low.
“We were just getting less. The price was lower so we were getting less back. It’s harder to stay in business unless you’re real, real big,” he said.
A small to medium size farm, he said, can actually make more money by scaling down and direct marketing. A prime example seen at this bustling farmers market that even on overcast days, still has loyal shoppers.
Keeping the family business alive after Marion’s father started selling to farmers markets 20 years ago, Marion’s wife, son and sister all play some role in the farm. They travel to about six markets in the off season and up to 15 in season all over California. Other farmers markets include one in Sacramento’s Cesar Chavez Park and the Davis Farmers Market in Central Park.
SunBlest also does mail-in orders through their sunblestorchards.com website and even have a farm store on their ranch available by appointment. They currently make about 200 bottles a week, which translates into 10-15 cases, among the dried packages and roasted nuts.
Marion’s recommendation: try the Hot ‘Cot Pepper Sauce as a glaze over roasted chicken or fish, or with cream cheese on a cracker. I tried it myself on chicken and even whole wheat toast and it served true to its name. Sweet, but with a whole lot of flavorful kicks.