When Frank Stenzel was ministering to international students at Chico State in the early 1980's, he had no thoughts about becoming a kiwi farmer. But inheriting his family property in Gridley at age 41 gave him the opportunity to reflect on what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He chose to move back to Gridley to start a kiwi farm.
He planted his first kiwis in 1982 and harvested his first kiwi crop in 1986. All of the Stenzel Kiwi Farm's 14 acres are planted with the "Hayward" kiwi, a variety originally from New Zealand and now the most common kiwi variety in the world. 99% of all kiwis in the market today are Hayward variety. The other cultivar is known as the Chico-Hayward. It was developed at a USDA Experimental Station in Chico based on the original New Zealand Hayward, but according to Frank, it doesn't produce marketable-sized berries. (For more information about the kiwis, you'll find an interesting article entitled "The Vegetable Mouse" by Ed Carmen in the Summer 1996 edition of "Pacific Horticulture".)
The kiwi is a vine and must be grown on trellises. Frank's vines produce about 120 tons of kiwis "berries" a year. A common misconception is that the kiwi is a fruit, but it's a berry. He sells about 10% of crop directly to consumers at farmers' markets around the Bay Area and 90% to wholesalers around the United States.
Kiwis Around the World
The first commercial kiwi vines were planted in California in the 1930's, but kiwis didn't become a popular consumer item until the early 1960's when they were put on supermarket shelves as "exotic fruit". That was a turning point for the town of Gridley, California. In the last 35 years, Gridley has evolved into the Kiwi Capital of the USA.
For 15 years (from the 1970's through the mid-1980's), the U.S. was ranked No. 2 producer in the world behind New Zealand, which ranked No.1. But major shifts have taken place in the kiwi world in the last 7 - 8 years. New Zealand has dropped to No. 2 and the USA is now No. 7, having been outstripped by Italy (No. 1), Chile (No. 3), France (No. 4), Japan (No. 5) and Greece (No. 6).
According to Frank, the predominance of poor quality Chilean kiwis in our supermarkets for many years gave kiwis a bad reputation. Largely due to lack of cold storage facilities in Chile, kiwis were picked with only a 5% sugar content and allowed to ripen during shipment and on the shelf. Because the berry's development was arrested at a low sugar level, it had a flat, uninteresting flavor. The Chileans are now following the sugar standard set by International Kiwi Organization and keeping the berries on the vine until they reach a minimum of 6.2% sugar. Recently, the quality of Chilean kiwis has noticeably improved and can be found on supermarket shelves from May - November when California kiwis are not in season.
To appreciate the light lemony flavor of a good kiwi, you should try Frank's kiwis that are properly ripened to a minimum of 7% sugar content on the vine. They'll still be hard to the touch when you buy them, but they'll ripen in 4 - 5 days if kept in a plastic bag together with an apple or banana, which hastens the ripening process. They'll keep in the refrigerator for over a week even after they've ripened.
Kiwi -- "Vegetable Mouse" or Superman?
The French call the kiwi a "souris vegetale" (vegetable mouse) probably because its brown hairy skin makes it look like a mouse. The Chinese call it a "gooseberry", highlighting the fact that it's a berry not a fruit. Names aside, the literature on kiwis makes it sound like the "superman" fruit of the produce world:
as much potassium as bananas!
twice the Vitamin C than citrus!
more Vitamin E than avocados!
more fiber than bran flakes!
low fat and no cholesterol!
only 50 calories!
In addition to eating kiwis by themselves, there are many creative recipes.
In a normal year, the kiwi season in Northern California runs from November to the end of May and you'll find him at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market during this season. During the rest of the season, can order Stenzel's kiwi-based jams by contacting Frank Stenzel directly at the address listed above. 8.25 oz. jars sell for $3.00 and are available in:
Stenzel's jams are also available at:
G.B. Ratto's International Grocers
821 Washington Street, Oakland, CA 94607
(800) 228-3515 (CA)
May 1996; updated September 2000.
Saturday Market Home Page
To contact the vendor, please use information at the top of this page.
Creative and Healthy Kiwi Recipes
Starting with a kiwi puree:
1 cup kiwi puree
1 TBS sweet mustard
Dessert or Fruit Salad Topping:
1 cup kiwi puree
1 cup yogurt
1-1/2 TBS honey
Not-so-sinful Chocolate Sauce:
1 cup melted chocolate chips
1/2 cup kiwi puree