Cherry festival in Sunnyvale this weekend

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The pits will be flying this weekend in Sunnyvale, as C.J. Olson Cherries holds the annual cherry festival that has heralded the start of summer for the past 20 years.

The big bing celebration takes place at the historic stand at 348 W. El Camino Real on Saturday and Sunday. Longtime fans know that there’ll be cherry pancakes for early arrivals and tours of the cherry orchard by Deborah Olson, the company’s fourth-generation owner. “The weather looks favorable and the cherries are ripe and ready,” she said.

There also will be music, cherry pitting contests and, of course, cherry spitting contests. Last year’s winner launched a cherry pit 30 feet, and it should take some set of lungs to beat that.

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Make a pit stop in Sunnyvale for this weekend’s cherry festival

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The 19th annual Cherry Festival is this weekend at C.J. Olson’s historic stand on El Camino Real in Sunnyvale, promising plenty of juice-stained faces and spit pits for everyone.

Deborah Olson will be giving tours of her family’s cherry orchard, and there will be live music and cherry-related fun both Saturday and Sunday, including cherry pancakes for breakfast, pitting and pit-spitting contests, and birthday cake on Sunday to celebrate Deb Olson’s birthday. Not a bad way to spend part of the weekend and step back into the Santa Clara Valley’s agricultural history.

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It’s cherry festival weekend in Sunnyvale

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We’re in the thick of cherry season and that means it’s time for the annual cherry festival this weekend at C.J. Olson’s historic stand in Sunnyvale.

This is the 18th annual Olson’s Cherry Festival, though the family has been selling fruit since 1899.

All the familiar activities will be taking place Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. There’ll be cherry pancakes for early arrivals, cherry-pitting and pit-spitting contests as well as live music from the Hot Rods on Saturday and Chico & the Band on Sunday.

Deborah Olson, the fourth-generation owner who celebrates her May birthday at the festival each year, will be giving tours of the orchard each day at 11 a.m. Visitors can enjoy birthday cake on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. for as long as it lasts.
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The stand is at 348 W. El Camino Real, but if you need directions or more information, you can get them at www.cjolsoncherries.com or by calling 800-738-2464. By the way, those last four digits spell out “BING.”

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C.J. Olson Cherries: An Iconic Silicon Valley Fruit Stand

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Long before Google or Apple came to Silicon Valley, there was C.J. Olson Cherries. This family-owned fruit stand has been right here on El Camino Real in the heart of the valley since 1899, serving first as a way station for Spanish missionaries and later for tech moguls. After visiting their clapboard store front myself, I’m betting their cherries are just as delicious now as they were a century ago.
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You go to C.J. Olson for their cherries. They’re locally-grown (as in, right down the street) and so sweet they make your eyes roll. High cherry season lasts from mid-May through the end of June. The store-front carries several varieties, including Bings, Raniers, and Garnets, and the clerks encourage sampling each kind.

Their other specialty is Blenheim apricots, an especially sweet and aromatic variety of late-ripening apricot. Fresh apricots will start showing up in the fruit stand around mid-June and the season will extend for another month or so.
.J. Olson carries a wide selection of dried cherries and apricots, along with nuts, jams, honey, candies, and other items befitting their general-store persona. Don’t miss the chocolate-covered apricots and cherries in the corner; they are incredibly addictive and make excellent presents for friends and family back home.
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Conveniently for those who can’t make it down to the valley for their cherries, C.J. Olson has opened locations at the San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland airports. I can’t imagine better airplane food than a bag of fresh cherries, can you?!

You can also order flats of cherries and their other offerings online:

• C.J. Olson Cherries, 348 W. El Camino Real, Sunnyvale, CA 94087

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Narsai David Review: Cherries

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(KCBS) – An 8-row cherry is a lot bigger than a 12-row cherry. KCBS Food and Wine Editor Narsai David explains it’s been the tradition to count how many cherries were lined up in row in packing boxes. So an 8-row cherry is more than an inch in diameter.

The quality of cherries is really based on the ripeness, maturity, and flavor, not size. But when you get a great big one and pop it in your mouth the explosion you get makes it seem a lot better than the smaller ones.

There’s a small cherry stand in Santa Clara called C.J. Olson Cherries that’s been around for over a hundred years and these are the best cherries I’ve had this year. They offer several packages. The Sweetheart Pleasure Pack is a 1 lb box full of cherries for $19.99. The Sweetheart Perfect Pack includes a 1.75 lb box of individually selected cherries that are packed in neat rows for $35. And these are just amazing!

– Narsai David, KCBS Food and Wine Editor

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Sunnyvale: Annual C.J. Olson’s Cherry Festival returns this weekend

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Fresh, dried or dipped in chocolate, cherries will not be in short supply at this year’s C.J. Olson’s Cherry Festival May 28 and 29 at the historic fruit stand at W. El Camino Real and S. Mathilda Avenue.

This marks the 13th annual celebration of the tasty red fruit for the Olson family, who preserved their family farm in the city’s center for more than 110 years. From 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., cherry connoisseurs can participate in day-long activities. Early birds can enjoy a cherry pancake breakfast starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 11 a.m.

Deborah Olson, a fourth- generation cherry farmer, will host cherry orchard tours on both Saturday and Sunday that kick off at about 11 a.m. and last an hour. Orchard tours will also be offered June 4 and 11, beginning at 10:30 a.m. at the stand.

On May 28, from noon to 2 p.m., Pete Carcione will be on hand to sign his new book, The New Greengrocer Cookbook, with recipes by his late father, Joe Carcione. Pete Carcione provides a new and expanded version of his father’s bestselling cookbook, The Greengrocer Cookbook. Sharing heralded recipes from the Carcione family, fruit and vegetable experts and fans of his father’s TV show and column, he updates the cookbook that earned accolades from TV Guide and Publishers Weekly.

On May 29, everyone is invited to celebrate Deborah Olson’s birthday with a slice of birthday cake. From noon to 2 p.m., there will be free birthday cake for all, while the cake lasts.

Live music will start at noon and feature Chico and the Band on Saturday and the Hot Rods on Sunday.

At 3 and 3:15 p.m., the locally famous cherry pit spitting contest will be held, in which three age groups can compete to win a prize. Before the festival comes to a close, adults can put their cherry knowledge to the test with a blind taste test. Winners also get a prize.

Deborah & Her Farther

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Deborah & Her Farther
Cherries, Sunnyvale and the Olson family. Since 1899, all three of these things have been linked together. And despite urbanization, other family farms in the area disappearing and basically an entire city being built up around them, the link between these three doesn’t look to be broken anytime soon.

You see, when your last name is Olson and you live in the South Bay, there really isn’t a question about what you’re destined to do in life. That was determined over a century before.

It all started when Carl and Hannah Olson put down roots as cherry farmers in the agriculturally rich area. At the time, Sunnyvale was a pastoral paradise, and the Swedish immigrants knew immediately this was where they wanted to raise a family. They bought 5 acres for about $150 an acre and had a little money left to build their home.

Other farmers in the area were planting apricots and prunes, but Carl Olson decided on cherries. He sold some of his crop locally and the rest he hauled by wagon 5 miles to the small town of Alviso, where a boat picked up the cherries and took them to San Francisco. Legend even has it that the reputation of the Olsons’ cherries was one of the reasons Sunnyvale was considered the prime cherry-growing area in the country.

Twenty years later, in 1919, the Olsons moved a few miles away to property they referred to as “the country”—a parcel at El Camino Real near Mathilda Avenue. Next in the farming legacy came son Ruel Charles, who along with his wife, Rose, would change the look of the farm and ultimately the future of the family with one simple idea.

“He put a little fruit stand in for her, which was basically a tray on two sawhorses, selling fresh cherries and apricots,” said Charlie Olson, the couple’s son. “And she immediately saw it was a real moneymaker, so she had him build her a fruit stand.”

From that small fruit stand, the business blossomed. Their 5 acres quickly turned into 100 and life was, well, a bowl of cherries. The mid-20th century was the golden age for the Santa Clara Valley fruit business, as the abundance of agriculture earned the area the moniker of “The Valley of Heart’s Delight.” In fact, according to local historian Yvonne Jacobson, by 1960 Santa Clara County had a total of 23 dried fruit plants, 25 frozen food operations and 85 fresh fruit and vegetable packers.

“During that time, the area was easily the world’s largest center for these industries,” said Jacobson, author of the book, “Passing Farms, Enduring Values: California’s Santa Clara Valley.”

But following World War II, urban and suburban sprawl covered the fertile land and the largest fruit-growing region in California gradually vanished. As millions of people moved into the area for its prosperous economy, dozens of family farms moved out. Eventually the dot-com era in the Silicon Valley caught up to the Olsons and in 1999, with agriculture all but gone from the Sunnyvale area, the Olsons were forced to make a difficult decision: make way for development or hang on to their past.

“We knew there would come a day where this all would change—that we’d have to change—and sure enough that day came,” said Deborah Olson, Charlie’s daughter. “So we decided to change on one condition.”

That one condition was that the beloved family fruit stand stay intact and be unaffected by urban encroachment.

“That was really, really important to my family and I, and to the citizens of Sunnyvale, I think,” she said.

So today you will find the famous C.J. Olson Fruit Stand still near the corner of El Camino Real and Mathilda Avenue, as a shining beacon of the agricultural prosperity the region once enjoyed. But just like the area around it, you will also find that the stand has evolved a bit. Instead of a tray and two sawhorses, a thriving retail store highlights local goods ranging from jams, jellies and nuts to some of the state’s best produce, artisan goods and, of course, the family’s famous Bings and the other cherries they now get from throughout the state.

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“Over the years, I’ve met so many really talented farmers,” said Deborah Olson. “And I’ve cultivated relationships with them where they give me their best produce and I highlight it in the best way I can. It’s a win-win situation for everybody.”

Showcasing some of the finest farms, farmers and foods the state has to offer is easy, she says, thanks to an education that has taken her all over the world.

“Since the age of 14, I knew working with the farm and with food would be somewhere in my future, but I just didn’t know how,” she said. “So I left after high school and went to culinary school in France to learn everything I could to bring back to the farm stand.”

Today Deborah Olson is embarking on a new stage in the family’s farming heritage. She has taken her knowledge about food—along with her entrepreneurial spirit—to develop different marketing plans for the business. These include a cookbook with family recipes and a successful mail-order operation that features baskets of homemade delicacies that have been bought by such celebrities as Martha Stewart, Jacques Pepin, Prince Albert of Monaco, Aaron Spelling and Courtney Cox Arquette. In addition, local restaurant menus have recently started to list the Olsons’ cherries among their ingredients and, later this summer, the family’s products will be sold in a kiosk at the San Jose International Airport.

“I just love working with the growers,” said Deborah Olson, with her trademark cherry-red-lipstick smile. “I learn something new every year about farming, about what’s affecting them, and I try to pass that on to my customers, too.”

But don’t think she does it alone. Deborah’s dad remains active in the business, tending to a barn full of equipment that he maintains and repairs on a regular basis. Seventy-four years young, Charlie Olson gets up early every day and tends to a small farm near the fruit stand. It is down to a 3-acre plot of land in between tennis courts and apartment complexes now, but this rural oasis reminds him of days long past. He says he still relishes his role of picking and delivering fresh-from-the-farm cherries to his favorite worker at the fruit stand: his daughter.

“She runs it beautifully and has really made it grow,” he said. “Some weeks she puts in 60, 70, 80 hours, and all she asks for in return is that people are happy.”

Happiness isn’t in short supply at the family business that has now been in existence for more than a century. Over the years, employees have become an extension of the Olson family, as many have grown up right alongside Deborah. Some of the fruit stand stalwarts include Stella Hernandez and sisters Lidia and Ester Veloz—or as Deborah Olson calls them, “The Ladies.” Working for the family for more than 50 years each, the women have become experts not only at picking out and packaging the best little red orbs around, but for what they think makes a family business last so long.

“I have worked here almost my entire life,” said Hernandez. “We work together, we laugh together, we cry together. The Olsons aren’t just my employers. They’re my family.”

The old and the new combine harmoniously at this famous fruit stand, which over the years has become a slice of the country in the middle of a city. Visitors from all over the world come to taste and purchase the Olsons’ cherries and other gourmet products, to tour the orchards and enjoy the events the family hosts.

“People are willing to come from a long way for our cherries,” said Deborah Olson proudly.

The dedication from the community to keep the family business going is evidenced each May at the Olsons’ annual cherry festival, which attracts hundreds of visitors. The festival serves up plenty of old-fashioned fun for the entire family and includes an educational orchard tour that Deborah Olson gives herself.

“With people living in the Silicon Valley, they really don’t know what this valley is all about and its strong tie to agriculture,” she said. “What we try to do here amongst other things is educate people.”

And educating folks about agriculture is just the latest effort by the Olsons to continue their longstanding farming tradition. Like a chameleon, they have taken on many identities over the years—from farm to fruit stand to mail-order business. The Olsons have reinvented themselves time and time again and have managed to survive the test of time the only way they know how: through family and cherries.

“I’ve been trying to keep this thing alive,” said Deborah Olson. “Many of our customers are getting old. They were my grandmother’s customers. But we are committed to keeping the fruit stand. Most people are amazed that we even held on this long. And right in the middle of Silicon Valley—go figure!”

Festival fun

The Olson family’s annual cherry festival—this year on May 30 and 31—features a smorgasbord of cherry pies, cherry pancakes and other cherry delights. Plus there’s fun for the whole family that ranges from an orchard tour to a cherry-pit-spitting contest. For more information, call 1-800-738-BING or visit www.cjolsoncherries.com.

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Olson’s fruit stand a slice of Sunnyvale’s past

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As Deborah Olson tells it, lightning ripped through the sky in Sunnyvale on Labor Day 1999 as construction crews bulldozed her family’s cherry orchard, a 16-acre farm that had stood on the corner of El Camino Real and Mathilda Avenue since 1919. After the heavy equipment was finished, all that remained was a fruit stand, a water tower and a few cherry trees.

“It was quite a sad day,” said Olson, fourth generation cherry grower. “A customer said the heavens were angry and shot down the lightning, scorning that the orchards went down.” Deborah’s father, Charlie Olson, was convinced it was Lester Tikvica, an old farmer, who sent down the lightning. Whatever the cause, “It was poignant,” said Olson.

Today, if you drive past the farm’s former location, you’ll find a P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, a Border’s, a Starbucks and a 300-unit apartment complex.

But amid the new development, you can still find C.J. Olson’s fruit stand, which has served as a reminder of Sunnyvale’s rich agricultural history since Deborah’s grandparents, Charlie and Rosie Olson, opened the stand in 1933.

The Olson’s fruit stand serves as a stark contrast to the surrounding chain stores. “Ours is different,” said Olson of the fruit stand she grew up in and now manages. “To do that in this day and age is difficult to pull off.”

This year, the fruit stand underwent a major renovation. It was bulldozed in January and reopened on June 8, about a month after the start of cherry season in California. Though the building is brand new, the Olsons kept a few architectural features from the old stand, including the wood trusses and the cherry painted water tower.

Most importantly though, the cherry stand is in the same location. That way,

the generations of customers who have been coming to Olson’s can find it among the new housing and shopping complexes.

“I fought really hard to keep the fruit stand where it was. I wanted to make sure we remained where we were because that’s where we were,” Olson said. “A lot of people helped us get this accomplished,” from the Sunnyvale city council to family friend and architect, Joe Bellomo of Palo Alto.

Though dying trees, poor growing seasons and the urbanization of Sunnyvale forced the Olsons to tear down their orchards and lease their land to a development company, they are still farming. They currently lease 13 acres from the city of Sunnyvale, located just back of the original orchard, where they farm three acres of cherry trees and 10 acres of apricot trees.

“We love farming. We’ve been doing this all our lives. To stop that would make a huge void in our lives. I can’t imagine my father not farming,” Olson said.

Nor can she imagine herself not carrying on the family’s tradition. “It was always clear to me. I knew I was going to continue doing this,” said Olson, whose love for cherries is evident from her dangling cherry earrings to her sporty cherry socks.

“Out of all the fruits, cherries really stand out. Cherries evoke happiness and bring back a lot of childhood memories,” Olson said.

This is certainly true for Olson, who spent her summers with her grandma Rosie at the fruit stand. When Olson was a baby, Grandma Rosie would use a blanket to transform a cherry box into a bed. And when she was a teenager, Deborah’s father put up a cot in the back of the packing shed for his daughter to nap.

During the many long summer days Olson spent cutting ‘cots and hand-packing cherries, she learned every nuance of the fruit business. She also garnered an appreciation of Santa Clara’s rich bounty of fruit, an education that serves her well as the current chairman of the marketing committee of the California Cherry Board.

Having long been known as the “valley of heart’s delight,” Santa Clara’s “rich fertile soil and microclimate produces the best cherries and apricots,” Olson declared.

That’s why Olson turns to neighboring farmers to supplement her harvest and keep up with customer demands for Olson’s cherries. When the California cherry season ends in late June, Olson turns to growers in the Northwest, whose season runs to the end of August. And during the winter months, Olson travels to Chile where they harvest cherries from Thanksgiving to mid-January.

That means fresh cherries are available at Olson’s fruit stand and via mail order eight months out of the year.

“I’m very picky and have a high quality standard. I just seek out the best cherries available,” Olson said.

And you’ll pay for it. Cherry prices are based on a fluctuating market price, but the range is $3-$8 per pound, depending on the time of year and quality. They also take Web and phone orders for three-, six- and 10-pound boxes.

Culinary icons such as Julia Child, Martha Stewart and Jacques Pepin are loyal customers. Stewart orders Olson’s cherries every other week for parties and photo shoots and Pepin cooks with them on his PBS specials. This month’s issue of San Francisco magazine lists Olson’s cherries as one of the best 125 things to eat in the Bay Area.

Of course, Olson sells more than just cherries and apricots at the fruit stand. There are cherry pies, chocolate covered apricots, dried Medjool dates, chocolate dipping sauce, pastel chocolate covered blueberries, tart cherry juice concentrate and “Deborah’s Fruit Cookbook,” which is full of family recipes.

Olson also sells other fresh fruit, such as tree-ripened white nectarines and plums, which she hand selects three times a week at the San Francisco produce market.

Like the other products she sells, Olson makes sure there are always samples of each different fruit variety. That way, customers can see how flavorful the peaches are or if they prefer the taste of a Crenshaw melon to a Sharlyn melon.

Because customers get to taste the fruit beforehand, “People will take five or 10 of something instead of one or two,” Olson said. “I love to hear customers tell me it’s a fun.

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CJ Olson Cherries – Store & Cherry Festival, Sunnyvale

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CJ Olson Cherries is still owned by the same family, Deborah Olson, is the 4th generation. The land it’s on & where the Border’s & other other stores are owned by them.

Inside the small shop they have cherries. They grow Rainier & Bing so it’s a good idea to buy from them. The season is short, from May-July 4 is the best time to get them. Martha Stewart loves their cherries & orders them for her show & magazine.

You can get Bing’s: small basket for $5; a bigger $10 basket, or $20 flat that 5lb. Rainiers are more expensive: same pricing $5/$10/$20, but the $20 is just a larger basket not a flat.

They have some fruit fruits, dried Blenheim apricots, cherry conserve, cherry blossom honey.

They also carry local products such as Preston’s candies in Burlingame. A new product they have is: Chocolate cherries & almond candy bar for $5.99. I also got a bag of Dark Chocolate honey comb from Preston’s candies that I really like, it’s $5.49 for 6 pcs.

There’s also Marshall Farm honey from American Canyon, CA, Frog Hollow Farm’s conserves from Brentwood, CA, and Diana maraschino cherries – bottled in Sunnyvale.

Items aren’t cheap, but they are good quality.
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10th Annual Cherry Festival:
We went to the CJ Olson Cherries 10th Anniversary Cherry Festival. It’s a small event since it’s held at the store on the corner of W. El Camino Real & Mathilda Ave.

It was held Sat 5/31/08 and Sun 6/1/08 from 9:30a-5p. We got there on Sun. by 9:30am and they had some FREE cherry pancakes ready. The girl was only giving one pancake to each person, but later the husband went back for 2nd and she gave him 2 small pancakes. They also had some cherry conserve & maple syrup to eat the small pancake with.

Tea was also available, and latter some samples of Rainier cherries.

At 10:30am there was an Orchard Tour given by Deborah Olson, 4th generation owner. She’s very nice and will tell you all about the history of Olson’s farms and plans for the future. Deborah will be doing Orchard tours for the next 3 weeks, don’t miss it.

We didn’t walk too far. We stopped at the 1st obelisk and she told us it’s public art w/ pictures of cherry blossoms. It’s very pretty. There are 2 in the shopping area. Then we walk to their orchards which is on Mathilda, by the tennis center.

This yr is a Great yr for Rainier & Bing cherries! They are big, juicy, and sweet.

There was also a cherry pit spitting contest that was silly but fun.

The resident band The Hot Rods were playing at 12 noon.

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Sunnyvale’s last cherry orchard yields

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Crop yields have been in the pits, causing Sunnyvale’s cherry orchards to disappear one by one.

Now the last one may soon be uprooted by apartments.

The Olson family, owner of the C.J. Olson Cherries orchard, is weeks away from closing negotiations with an undisclosed developer.

Target Stores had been negotiating for the site at El Camino Real and Mathilda Avenue for almost two years before walking away from the table this past summer.

Now, the Olson family, which has owned and operated the orchard for almost 100 years, is reportedly negotiating with a handful of developers interested in building a combination of apartments and light retail on the site.

Real estate sources said the interested bidders are San Jose-based Bay Apartment Communities, Cupertino-based Sobrato Development Cos. and Irvine Apartment Communities, based in Southern California.

Charlie Olson, owner of C.J. Olson Cherries, said it’s too early to comment.

“It’s still preliminary because nothing is signed,” he said. “We should know something better in about three weeks.”