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TREES, PLEASE! California Rare Fruit Growers

By Robin Y. Rivet, for Let’s Talk Plants! February 2024.

California Rare Fruit Growers

I confess. I developed this “Trees, please!” column in 2010, but I’ve been a CRFG member much longer than that. In fact, I’m even our local chapter secretary. Pretty amusing for a girl who never learned to type.

My guess is, unless you’re also a card-carrying CRFG member, you might assume that the California Rare Fruit Growers are just eccentric hobbyists who disregard accepted boundaries when selecting regionally appropriate species, or that they spend enormous amounts of time or money procuring and propagating unusual fruit varieties. Of course, those notions have some truth, but they’re not entirely accurate. Most CRFG members are also quite successful growers, most heed government regulations, and willingly share their results, expanding everyone’s knowledge about what can be suitably grown in our region. With climates changing rapidly, perhaps all horticulturists ought to think about pushing envelopes – especially as our temperatures and food prices soar, and resilience becomes a mandate, not an option.

What is CRFG’s history and scope?

Like the San Diego Horticultural Society, California Rare Fruit Growers is a non-profit mostly run by volunteers. Formed by a small network of SoCal fruit-growing friends in 1968, today CRFG has 19 regional chapters in California, as well as affiliates in Arizona and Texas. Global fruit and interest in food collaboration spans continents, and CRFG’s memberships have expanded worldwide to include over 3,100 devotees. Its initial purpose encouraged growing unappreciated or unusual fruit, but that notion now includes similarly unique or less common vegetables, grains, herbs and other plants.

What does CRFG do?

Local chapters hold regular educational meetings; provide hands-on propagation experience; organize field trips, fruit tastings and plant sales; and encourage members to grow heirlooms or experiment with cultivars that are not available commercially. Last month we highlighted the cherimoya - as a somewhat rare, but easy to grow and unique tasting, sub-tropical fruit tree. Readily available ‘Hass’ avocados and ‘Wonderful’ pomegranates are sold in grocery stores, but there’s more than 1000 avocado varieties and pomegranate cultivars – many having desirable traits - especially suited for home gardeners. The Monterey Bay CRFG Chapter recently published results from tasting 72 varieties of apples. Most chapters align with local schools and universities like UC Davis or Cal-Poly SLO to monitor disease and pest control issues, and assist with scholarships and grants.  

Can anyone join?

Yes, neophytes welcome. No academic requirement or experience is necessary. San Diego’s local chapter meets monthly in Balboa Park and a North County chapter meets in Vista. Dues are inexpensive. The parent organization CRFG INC. has supplemental benefits that include a bi-monthly magazine called ‘The Fruit Gardener’ and a photo competition. The state fees also enable people to attend annual fruit festivals - typically held over several days. Similar events lure professional speakers, include banquets and local tours, and are delightful and rewarding happenings, connecting diverse people and foods across many cultures and regions. COVID dampened these gatherings lately, but I expect more to resurrect soon.

What’s in it for you?

Have you ever grown or eaten a che? “You should”. Don’t know how to graft or air-layer? “You can learn.” Propagate new plants from cuttings or seeds with like-minded enthusiasts? “Check.” Sample a variety of fruits you’ve never even pronounced before? “Definitely.” Meet lots of interesting people?  “All the time. Like most gardeners, rare fruit growers are rarely unfriendly, and most are willing to share plants, processes, and most vitally – their precious time and knowledge.


Member Robin Rivet is an ISA Certified Arborist & UCCE Master Gardener – contact her: 


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