Don Neff’s journey farming tree crops began in the mid-80s when the investment firm he worked for made significant investments in the South Florida Citrus industry. After relocating to Southern California and working on some construction projects, he was given the opportunity to manage the last remnants of Susanna Bixby Bryant’s estate in Yorba Linda in 1995. Intrigued at the idea of farming the land as the previous seven generations of his family had, Don took on the orchard as a new project. This twenty-acre orchard was spared from development because of its location in the Santa Ana River flood plain. It features four thousand Valencia Orange trees, many of which were planted in the early 60s.
Since those humble beginnings in the mid-’90s, the Orange County Register has recognized our company as one of the county’s last orange growers. We have labored persistently to nurture these trees, bring the crop to market and maintain this slice of Orange County’s agricultural heritage. It is our sincere hope that with the right farm model and the right opportunities we can squeeze oranges–and other healthy, delicious crops–back into the tapestry of what makes Orange County so rich.
In 2003, that farm model began to take shape. We began managing a unique Hass avocado operation in Tustin. This thirteen-acre orchard is planted on the slopes of the Emerson tract housing subdivision and was owned by the homeowner’s association (HOA). It is also irrigated with environmentally-friendly reclaimed water. Over the past six years, we have nurtured these trees to overcome their difficult start in heavily compacted clay soils and begin producing bumper crops.
After tabulating data from several years of harvests, we can confidently say that the HOA orchard is very productive and economically and ecologically viable alternative to standard ornamental landscapes. Our management of these slopes has made us a good income and mitigated the HOA’s fees by 5%. It is a way for housing and farming to coexist and an elegant rebuttal to the development fears that have brought heartache to farmers across the county.
Moving forward, we wish to help land developers replicate and improve this model of urban, sustainable agriculture within their future master plan communities.
Neff Family History
Don Neff comes from a long line of agribusiness pioneers. Dating back to 1728 when Michael Neff Sr. emigrated from Switzerland, the Neff family has a rich history in agriculture spanning eight generations in the US. Originally settling on the East Coast in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (1744) subsequent generations settled in Wythe County, Virginia (1782), and family descendants thereafter pioneered in Eastern Washington State just after statehood in the late 1800s. The Neff family remains active today in Washington State agribusiness ventures.