Butte County’s deep agricultural roots reach back to the earliest innovations in California farming. Chico’s founder, John Bidwell, is known as “a founding father of modern California agriculture.” He championed diversified commercial agriculture, pioneered the growth of the almond and walnut industry, and grew his ranch into a model of California’s farm industry in the second half of the 19th century. In 1898, Oroville farmer Freda Ehmann launched California’s olive industry by perfecting a process to preserve the fruit for shipment.
Today, large and small farms carry on the legacy of quality and innovation that has existed in Butte County for more than 100 years, producing some of the state’s best olive oils, fruit, rice, and nuts.
Building on Freda Ehmann’s legacy, Oroville’s Lodestar Farms and Bamford Family Farms offer award-winning olive oils from their Mission olive groves with a distinct regional flavor. Fertile volcanic soil combined with a Mediterranean climate makes Oroville an ideal location for the Mission olives, with 75% of their production in the country located in the Oroville area.
Long after John Bidwell, almonds and other tree nuts continue to flourish in Butte County. For five generations, Sohnrey Family Foods in Oroville has been growing almonds, walnuts, rice, and prunes and selling high-quality consumer products. You can also buy almonds and other nut products from Maisie Jane’s California Sunshine Products. A third-generation almond farmer’s daughter, Maisie Jane began roasting nuts in the family kitchen at 17, and the company grew from a college project into a sustainable business. For a more seasonal treat, you can buy chestnuts directly from Harrison’s California Chestnuts during the fall harvest.
With warm weather and water-retaining adobe soil, Butte County is a fertile area for growing rice, with Richvale particularly suited for growing the crop. Of the more than 400 rice growers in the county, the Richvale-based Lundberg Family Farms is the most well-known. With a family legacy started in 1937 and founded in sustainability and stewardship, today Lundberg ships their rice and rice products nationwide.
South of Chico, on the east bank of the Sacramento River, Rancho Llano Seco is a sixth-generation family run farm that is situated on one of the last intact Mexican land grant properties from 1845. It responsibly and humanely raises pork and beef as well as heirloom beans and ancient grains.
Butte County’s legacy of quality and innovation extends beyond edible crops. In Biggs, the Lavender Ranch grows and distills dozens of botanicals for essential oils and other products on-site at Bayliss Ranch. The organic methods the Lavender Ranch uses harken back to the original farming methods used by the Bayliss family in 1865, when the Ranch used to harvest wheat.
The long history of farming and ranching in Butte County has largely continued through family-led endeavors spanning generations, but newcomers also do their part to build on the area’s agricultural legacy. Already making a name for itself, relative newcomer Milk & Honey 1860 sells goat’s milk lotions and balms as well as fleece and woolen products from their Civil War-era farm.
For the past 150 years, Butte County has been an agricultural leader in California, with innovative ideas and farmers with a deep respect for the land. We can’t wait to see what the next century brings.