There aren’t many places in the world where you can walk outside your door and smell oranges, drive along walnut groves to get from one city to the next and have coffee with the person who grows your food.
There also aren’t many people who appreciate it outside of those living in places like Tulare County. But one local farmer is hoping to change that.
Bob McKellar, owner of the Historic Seven Sycamores Ranch in Ivanhoe, is working with the Exeter Chamber of Commerce to provide farm tours to people staying at his bed and breakfast. Farm tours were part of his original vision for the ranch but it wasn’t until recently the idea caught on with tourists.
“When people come here they want to see a farm,” McKellar said. “Not a lot of people offer farm tours but it is something we are starting to focus on.”
On his farm tours, McKellar allows guests to pick fruit right from the tree as he explains the difference between valencias, navels and mandarin oranges. He talks about the constant process of field preparation, planting, irrigation, weeding, trimming and harvesting. He also shows them equipments such as toppers, edgers and grinders used in the production of agriculture.
“More and more people think their food comes from the grocery store,” McKellar said. “The more we can educate people about farming the better. The existence and future of agriculture rests on the voters of those who have never seen a farm.”
Beginning in September, McKellar said his ranch will be offering farm tours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment on Saturday. Anyone interested in going on or taking a friend on a farm tour can call the Historic Seven Sycamores Ranch at 559-798-0557 or the Exeter Chamber of Commerce at 559-592-2919.
McKellar said tourists from out of state are starting to realize the advantage of staying in the Valley. Due to its central location in California, McKellar said one family from Texas stayed in Ivanhoe for a week-long vacation. One day they went to see the Giant Sequoias, they spent another at Kings Canyon, then Yosemite, the Bay Area and the Central Coast.
“We have two kind of visitors – people who stay for a wedding and people doing a Farm Stay or vacationing at a bed and breakfast,” he said. “And they come from as far away as Canada and Scotland.”
In May, the Sequoia Tourism Council, comprised of local chambers of commerce and the Visalia Visitors Bureau, recognized McKellar with the inaugural Spirit of the Sequoias Award. The award will be given each year to an individual who has made considerable efforts to bring tourism to Tulare County.
“I think there are others who have done much more than I have, but it was very generous of them to give me the award and I appreciate it very much,” McKellar said.
McKellar branched out from his traditional farming operations in 2006 with Family Farm Fresh. The business delivered baskets of in-season fruits and vegetables collected from a network of small, family farms in Tulare County and the surrounding area. In 2007, McKellar got married in the garden on the grounds of the ranch and decided to convert the space into an outdoor wedding venue. Since then, McKellar converted an old wooden equipment shed into the Glass Barn, an indoor venue that can be heated and cooled. He is now working on a permanent canopy to provide shade during outdoor wedding ceremonies.
In 2009, McKellar opened his Farm Stay bed and breakfast in the home he grew up. Known as the Hummingbird Cottage, McKellar’s father relocated the 80-year-old home from Ivanhoe to his orange groves outside the community on Road 164. Seven Sycamores Ranch is named after the seven sycamore
trees McKellar’s father planted more than 80 years ago. He said five of the original trees remain and two were replaced with new trees within the last 20 years. McKellar said the ranch is historic because his parents and their neighbors operated a World War II civilian observation tower from 1941-1943.
“The Air Force thought the Japanese might try to fly at low altitudes through the Valley for a sneak attack on Los Angeles and Bay Area harbors,” McKellar said. “It was a piece of local history, so we built an exact replica to replace it.”
The Historic Seven Sycamores Ranch is located at 32985 Road 164 in Ivanhoe. For more information, call 559-798-0557 or visit http://www.sevensycamoresfarmstay.com/.