Santa Paula Times

Richard Pidduck with his Great Pyrenees, Cosmo, outside his barn on Santa Paula Creek Ranch. The barn is on the March 12 Barns, Ranches and Homes tour and barbecue, to benefit the Santa Clara Valley Hospice/Home Support Group Inc.

Pidduck barn, art studio on Hospice home and barn tour March 12

February 16, 2011
Santa Paula News

Cross green Bridge Road, spanning Santa Paula Creek, for a dramatic entrance to the 80-acre Santa Paula Creek Ranch that Richard and Gail Pidduck have farmed for 28 years.

The bridge, which used to cross the creek on Santa Paula’s Main Street, was moved to its current location off Santa Paula-Ojai Road just north of Mupu School in the 1930s or 1940s by the county of Ventura

The Pidduck barn and art studio are among four stops in Santa Paula on March 12, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., as part of the Barns, Ranches and Homes tour of Santa Clara Valley Hospice/Home Support Group Inc. The $25 cost of the tour also includes a barbecue from noon to 2 p.m. at the picnic area of Limoneira Co. on Cummings Road. (Cost is $30 if tickets are purchased the day of the tour.)

One can easily appreciate where artist Gail finds inspiration for her famed paintings, many of which are created in her art studio. It is also where the couple carry on a family tradition, with Richard a fourth-generation Ventura County farmer and Gail a third-generation.

On Richard’s side, there are several prominent farming families: the Pidduck family who still farm in south Oxnard, and the Kimball and Duval families who farmed in the west Saticoy area. Gail hails from the Lindsay family who farmed west of Santa Paula.

Successful farming takes a combination of “luck, science and art,” Richard said. “It’s about risk management, and you can never stop learning. You’re always trying to intensify the productivity of your crops. You can’t grow land, so you have to use it more efficiently.” And, today, ag is a global business, Richard said. Farming has changed considerably since his parents, grandparents and “greats” worked the land. Now, if growers want to succeed, Richard said, “they have to be confident dealing with change, be forward-thinking.”

The payoff is the same today, though, as yesterday. “There are enormous quality-of-life benefits if you enjoy living in the country, which we do love,” Richard said. “I love being out in the orchards. For me, it’s not really work. Growing food is an intrinsically valuable and rewarding profession.”

The road to the Pidduck barn winds left from the bridge for about three-quarters of a mile, past Gail’s studio, other ranch houses and the Pidduck home tucked into a hill. On either side of the road are 10,000 avocado and citrus trees planted on the canyon floor, from one side to the other, with Santa Paula Creek a chasm running through it.

The pioneer Rafferty family owned the then-160-acre ranch since the late 1800s and divided and sold it in the 1970s. The Pidducks acquired the property in 1983 and there raised their three children, now grown: Will, Nate and Megan. These days, it is frequently visited by their two young grandsons, Laird and Rafe. Richard jokes that he spent his whole life trying to steer his children away from farming, but wasn’t very successful, as his eldest son, Will, is a farm manager and Nate is interested in agriculture, too.

A modern-day farmer is “always looking ahead,” Richard said, “but change doesn’t come quickly when growing trees.”

Originally, the ranch’s main crops were oranges and lemons, with few avocados. Since then, the oranges have gone, most of the orchards replaced, with avocados taking up 40 percent of the ranch and the rest lemons and a growing number of mandarins. With proper care and market success, most of the trees will be productive for about 30 to 40 years, Richard estimated.

Signs will guide visitors to the four-bay green metal barn, which was built in 2005. Along with housing all the ranch equipment, the barn is Richard’s office -- a hub of agricultural activity that extends from Santa Paula Creek Ranch to the county, state and beyond. Richard runs far more than his ranch. Among his many responsibilities, he is board chair of Saticoy Lemon Association, the largest lemon shipper in Ventura County; president of the U.S. Citrus Science Council, a citrus industry trade association; board member of Index Fresh, an avocado shipper; board chair of the Canyon Irrigation Co.; chairman emeritus of the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation; and past president of the Ventura County Farm Bureau.

Ten years ago, Richard helped lead the U.S. Citrus Science Council in a fight against the U.S. Department of Agriculture to keep lemons from Argentina out of the U.S on the basis of phyto-sanitary threats, an action that saved the lemon industry untold millions of dollars.

In his barn, Richard extends his reach from behind an old green metal desk -- the only desk he has ever used. He first sat at it in the barn of his grandfather, Eugene Kimball, on Kimball Road, where he worked in the family agricultural services business, Kimball Toppers Inc. In the 1970s, the company and Richard’s desk moved to Corporation Street in Santa Paula. When Richard left the family business in 1993 to farm full time, the desk moved with him to the Limoneira building off 10th Street, where, Richard recalled, the office was so small, the door barely cleared the desk.

There is much more room for it now in Richard’s sparsely decorated office area in the barn. Inside the barn’s bays are a John Deere tractor, fertilizer spreader, ATV and gray work truck, all guarded by Cosmo, an enormous Great Pyrenees.

Unexpectedly, another treat awaits car lovers -- an Irish-green 1968 912 Porsche and a Prussian-blue 1985 911 Porsche. He bought the 1968 Porsche on an overseas study trip to Vienna, Austria, his junior year at Stanford University, and had his then-$4,200 ride shipped back home.

Gail, well-known for her paintings, often captures on canvas the view from her studio, which was the original house on the old Rafferty Ranch. As an outdoor person, who grew up on a farm of citrus and flowers, Gail said she enjoys living among the orchards. The barn, she explained, is “Richard’s domain,” and the art studio hers.

She also tends a bountiful flower and vegetable garden. Zinnias are some of her favorite flowers to paint, she said, as she has fond memories of her dad growing them in his garden. Her paintings grace many homes and are displayed in the Museum of Ventura County and Santa Paula Art Museum. Her latest joint venture with two other local artists is the Santa Paula Portrait Project, which will capture images of anyone willing to sit or pose for them, she said. Although the project is still in the planning phase, it will be an exploration of who our community is, she explained.

The Pidduck barn, which overlooks acres and acres of avocados, lemons and mandarins, is command central for Ventura County and California agriculture. Its magnificent setting across the wide Santa Paula Creek will inspire dreams of working the land, as these descendants of Ventura County pioneers continue to do.

Ticket information

The Pidduck barn and art studio are among four stops in Santa Paula on March 12, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., as part of the Barns, Ranches and Homes tour of Santa Clara Valley Hospice/Home Support Group Inc. The $25 cost of the tour includes a barbecue from noon to 2 p.m. at the picnic area of Limoneira Co., 1141 Cummings Road. While there, visitors will have a chance to visit the historic Limoneira general store. (Cost is $30 if tickets are purchased the day of the tour.) The Ventura County Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers will be barbecuing.

Other stops are Esther and George Tamayo’s home and barn off Foothill Road. A shuttle will take visitors there from the Limoneira ranch. Joanna and Randy Axell’s home and barn are at 14732 W. Telegraph Road. Scores of tractors belonging to members of the Topa Topa Flywheelers Antique Gas Engine and Tractor Club will also be on show at each of the ranches.

Tour sponsors are Calavo Growers Inc.; Santa Paula Chevrolet; Ben Curtis; Fallini Graphics; Santa Paula Times; and Enterprise Car Rentals.

In Santa Paula, tickets may be purchased at Brownie’s Basement, 866 E. Main St.; the Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce at the Santa Paula Depot, 200 N. 10th St.; the Santa Paula Times, 944 E. Main St.; and Santa Clara Valley Hospice, 133 N. Mill St. In Fillmore: Mimstar, 358 Central Ave. In Ventura: Hallmark Shop Lautzenhiser’s, 1730 S. Victoria Ave. Or send a check and self-addressed, stamped envelope to P.O. Box 365, Santa Paula, CA  93061. Make checks payable to SCV Hospice.

Walking shoes are recommended; no high heels. For more information, call 525-1333.