Bite into an early season Fuji apple from your go-to supermarket.
It might be crisp, but it is far from fresh.
That’s because it is likely from the remnants of last year’s crop put on ice for a number of months.
Or it could have come to your store’s produce department by a slow boat from South America.
But if you drop by Lucky You Orchards in rural Ripon any Saturday or Sunday this month between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. you can find out what a fresh early season Fuji apple really tastes like.
And at the same time, you can create a bushel full of memories.
That’s because the farmer is your neighbor.
More precisely, they are the Chinchiolo family.
They’re a fourth generation Ripon family whose roots in farming in San Joaquin County go back 100 years.
There’s father Steve and siblings Andrea, Alex and Adam.
They grow apples. Strike that. They grow organic apples.
That requires them to pay attention to everything they do a daily basis instead of looking for quick fixes as they nurture, prune, water and feed their apple trees.
And because they sell directly to people at a slew of Bay Area farmers’ markets in addition to stores, they are passionate and picky about what they do.
After all, when you take a bite out of their apples it is personal.
And it doesn’t get much more personal than on Saturdays and Sundays throughout this month and October when family members will be among those greeting, helping, and answering your questions when you venture out to visit Lucky You organic apple orchard.
The orchard is at 21611 South Carrolton, just north of River Road. If you’re traveling east out of Manteca on Highway 120 or west out of Escalon-Oakdale on Highway 120, it is a south turn onto Carrolton Road (the intersection with St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on one corner) and several miles down to where you will see a sign proclaiming that you are welcome to their orchard.
Better yet, if you’re heading up from Ceres-Turlock, from Ripon or even Manteca, take Highway 99 to Jack Tone Road.
Head north on Jack Tone Road then turn right onto River Road. Once you pass through Ripon you will enjoy driving past several miles of bountiful orchards and vineyards including two wineries — McManis and Lucca.
It’s a left turn from Ripon Road to Carrolton Road and a short distance to the orchard.
There’s no admission to the orchard. It’s free. So are the tractor rides.
The Chinchiolo family grows four varieties of organic apples — Galas, Early Fujis, Granny Smith, and Pink Lady.
Early Fujis tend to be the most popular thanks to being crunchy and sweet. But as any connoisseur of apples knows, there are dozens of popular apple varieties with their own unique taste going from sweet to tart as well as what they are ideal for creating in the kitchen.
Family members and their orchard team are more than happy to explain the differences as well as answer any and all questions you have about how apples are grown and how an orchard operates.
They will even offer you free recipes.
How it works is simple.
Lucky You Orchards provides you a basket and a few quick tips before you head out to roam the orchard to pick your fruit.
All fruit picked is charged $2.99 a pound.
Pre-picked fruit is also available for sale.
You are welcome to take photos and even bring your own picnic lunch.
If you head out to the orchard keep in mind to wear sturdy shoes and use sun block, perhaps sun hats, and bug spray for the occasional mosquito. Bring water.
Families also like to bring a blanket and relax after picking. They ask that you keep your pets at home.
Most important of all, be prepared to have fun — and to be surprised.
Andrea can share countless stories of encounters with families where parents are excited that their kids embrace the adventure whole-heartedly that they put away their devices.
The power of picking apples with family and friends in an orchard instead of reaching into a bowl for an apple was thoroughly reflected in a sight Andrea saw last year.
A young child who was enthusiastically enjoying a lollipop, literally tossed it aside in favor of enjoying a freshly picked apple.
Yes, they are that sweet.
And the experience is that cool of a thing for kids.
The orchard also draws couples on dates as well as foodies who are eager to select apples for the kitchen creations essentially from their own backyard.
This is the third year the orchard has been open for u-pick guests.
Many of their guests in the first two years were customers of their farmers market locations in places like the Ferry Plaza and Fort Mason plus Clement Street in San Francisco, San Rafael, Alemany, Modesto, Walnut Creek and Livermore.
Given they already had built relationships with the farmer, they wanted to get to know the farm as well.
Between their apple orchard and a cherry orchard that is now closed for u-pick guests, their long-term customers shared how they loved taking in the farm-rich countryside and getting out of the Bay Area for a wholesome family trip.
The Chinchiolo family also presses their own line of ciders.
They are part of a testing room at Riggers Loft in Richmond at Rosie the Riveter national historical park.
The family’s Far West Cider Company (farwestcider.com) is near their cidery on the Richmond waterfront.
It is a strategic location given the popularity of their ciders throughout the Bay Area with retailers and restaurants from Santa Cruz to the Napa Valley.
You can find Far West Cider offerings locally at Bev Mo in Modesto and Terrazza Market in Ripon.
Terrazza Market happens to be on River Road in Ripon at the corner of South Murphy and River roads.
One added note: This is a u-pick experience and not an Apple Hill excursion with a deli, bake shop, and such. That said, San Joaquín County and not El Dorado County is the biggest apple growing county in California when it comes to production.
More information about Lucky You Orchards can be found by going to luckyouorchards.com.