Farmers Market vendor photograph

Steve Smit poses with his daughter Nicole at their booth at the Davis Farmers Market in 2011. (Photo by Craig Lee)

Steve Smit has sold his fruit all over California. But the Davis Farmers Market is his favorite.

“It’s one of the most unique farmers markets in the state. It’s a joy to go to,” said Smit, who owns Mt. Moriah Farms, a seller at the landmark Saturday market since 2001.

The customers are what make it special. “They are very savvy about their food. They are willing to pay for the good stuff. That just encourages me as a farmer to do it right.”

Smit farms 14 acres in the San Joaquin County town of Clements, near Lodi. On it, he grows apples, apricots, cherries, table grapes, nectarines, peaches and pluots. It’s 4 miles down the road from 150 acres his dad bought for dairy cattle in 1969, now in a family trust.

In the 1980s, when Steve and his four brothers became interested in growing fruit, their dad sold the cows and converted about half of their property to orchards. In 1987, “Dad heard about the Fuji apples, and we were the second or third farm to have them. It was the latest, greatest apple … nobody had them.” Today, Fujis are a staple at Mt. Moriah too. It has about five varieties of Fujis, along with other types of apples. Everything is organic.

Steve and his wife, Robin, have four adult children, Nicole, Jonah, Lily and Joseph, ages 26 to 21, and a grandchild on the way in October. Robin has a doctorate in theology, owns a publishing company and is part owner of a subscription Christian TV channel.

All their children have helped on the farm but Jonah is the only one who still works there, part-time. The family has a condo near the beach in Sam Clemente, where Steve goes to surf when he can.

“You get the work done, then you play,” he said. “In springtime, when the cherries come, you are heads down till July 3. But my rule is: July 4, I have to be on the beach.” Then it’s back to work for the apples.

And he’s learned to let the fruit tell him when it’s time to pick. “I’m never the first guy out with the cherries, but when they are ready, I’m there. And when it’s done, it’s done. I don’t try to hold on to fruit. I want the best – what’s in season.”

The farm has about 40 varieties of fruit, but as the trees age and they start to replant, he’s reducing it to about two dozen kinds – the proven best sellers and producers.

Smit said he enjoys having a business that’s based on relationships. He educates customers on picking the perfect fruit, and even pruning their trees. One year, he gave away about 200 cherry trees at the market. He helped one customer prune his grapes.

“It’s not a blueprint to make money but that’s not what I ever wanted.”

Be sure to stop by a chat with Steve at an upcoming Saturday market.