The year was 1951 and Floyd Bolster decided to retire in a community called Camino. He bought a ranch that had 10 acres of producing apple trees and dreamed of working his land and reaping the rewards of the life of a farmer.
Six years later, Floyd Bolster died, and his son Gene left his job in Southern California to come to the ranch and complete his father’s dream.
In 1964, Gene Bolster, local grower; Dick Bethell, the county’s pomology specialist and farm advisor; Ed Delfino, the county’s agricultural commissioner: and Bob Tuck, a retired army officer, all united to form the Apple Hill Growers Association. This is the 40th year and Apple Hill continues to attract people from all over the world.
“There were about 16 ranchers back then,” said Bolster. “We usually gathered at Bob Tuck’s house at the end of the day and talked about how awful farming was,” recalled Bolster.
“We had an awful pear blight about 36 years ago and we had to do something to survive. Our major crop was pears.”
To this day, a few of the old pear orchards are still around. “An orchard can produce for 50 years if it is taken care of,” said Bolster. The pear blight took production from 52,000 tons in 1958 to 8,435 in 1965. A few of the ranchers had some apples planted, but pears had been the primary crop. It was time for a change.
Bolster and Delfino set out to discover a way to help the ranchers keep their farms and make the rich soil of Camino productive again. In 1962 Bolster and Delfino visited Oak Glen in Southern California.
“They had a successful marketing program, so we got a copy of their bylaws and improved on them,” Delfino said.
Armed with this information, they returned to Camino, gathered the local ranchers together and formed the growers association called Apple Hill.
“We faced competition from Washington State apples,” Bethell said, “but the growers in Camino had to do something.”
Bolster stated that the apples on the hill may not have that long shape, like the Washington apple. “They have longer days than we do. We have an ideal growing season, with a long chilling season. In other words, the trees stay dormant longer. So while a Washington apple may look great, our apples have better flavor.”
The name “Apple Hill” was created by Bob Tuck. “It was amazing how much we accomplished in such a short time,” Bolster said. “We started in mid-June of 1964 and had everything ready for the first press picnic in August.”
During the press picnic, each Apple Hill family hosted individual members of the press for a meal at their home and many of them became close friends. The growers also produced 50,000 paper litter bags that they passed out at the State Fair that year, offering two pounds of free apples to visitors who brought the litter bag to Apple Hill with them.
Bolster still has a few of those bags and if you compare the map that decorated the front of the original Apple Hill literature to the map of ranchers that exists today, you can see that the original association has blossomed into a very successful ranch marketing endeavor.
The Apple Hill Growers Association has grown from 16 original ranchers to over 55 ranchers, including Christmas tree growers and wineries, vineyards and a spa.
Another suggestion from Clarice Larson was to show visitors what could be done with apples in cooking. She originated the first place to sample some of the homemade desserts, baked goods, jams, jellies and sauces. In some of the ranches’ Web pages you will find a sample of the growers’ favorite recipes.
“It’s never easy to get ranchers to agree on anything,” Bolster observed, “but they did agree on forming the growers association. Everyone worked together and Apple Hill rose like a phoenix from the ashes of disaster.”
“Apple Hill was the first ranch marketing effort in Northern California,” Delfino said, “and its success is shown by the fact that now there are ranch marketing groups all over. Apple Hill is a great example of government, farmers and media working together for everyone’s good.”
At Larsen’s Ranch, you will find the Rhode Island Greening which is believed to be the oldest apple tree in El Dorado County. At Hilltop Ranch, the Bolsters have collected a number of antique varieties, making available some of the apples of your childhood.
So much of the history of Apple Hill has been preserved. The community has gone to tremendous effort to protect their history and offer the public an opportunity to step back in time, if only for a day. Visitors will find their day filled with old-fashioned fun. Plan a picnic on the lush land that surrounds these exciting ranches. Their doors are opened and the growers have gone the extra mile to ensure your family a day that they will remember.