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A Life Of Lemons: Founder Of One Of The World's Largest Citrus Farms' Granddaughter On Pivoting In The Pandemic And Growing Up Farming In Ventura County

Packing house at Limoneira

It’s one of the largest lemon producers in the world, and based in Ventura County.

Limoneira was founded in 1893 by Nathan Weston Blanchard – who also was a founder of Santa Paula.

His great granddaughter Betsy has now written a book sharing her memories of growing up in the so-called, "Citrus Capital of the World."

Thousands of lemons are being sorted in the packing house of Limoneira in Santa Paula.

Limoneira is a Portuguese word for lemon grove and it’s one of the largest lemon producers in the world, and one of the oldest citrus growing organizations on the West Coast.

Founded in 1893 by Nathan Blanchard it’s grown from 412 acres to over 14,500 acres across California, Arizona and Chile.

Blanchard’s great granddaughter, Betsy Blanchard Chess, says that the pandemic has probably been one of their biggest challenges.

"About 70% of our lemons were going to food service. Well - pandemic! It was a huge blow.

"We did the proverbial pivot and moved towards retail. It's really been big change to the way we think.

"I suppose there are winners and losers and we were definitely a loser during the pandemic."

Betsy Blanchard Chess has written a memoir about growing up in Santa Paula
Betsy Blanchard Chess has written a memoir about growing up in Santa Paula

Fourth generation of farming and ranching in the county - Betsy grew up around the farm owned and still operated by her family.

She is now the first woman with a seat on their board.

She’s written a memoir about her childhood called Daughter of The Land – growing up in the citrus capital of the world.

The book is filled with historical photos around Santa Paula – the city founded by her great grandfather – around 150 years ago – and even a letter about grandfather – also called Nathan Blanchard – from his school principal.

"It was written in 1888," she says, of the letter which politely expels her grandfather from his school.

Betsy is speaking in person at two events this month in Ventura County.

The first event will be at Oxnard Historic Farm Park on Saturday, October 2, where she will speak on the history of farming in Ventura County and read portions from her book.

The park is a tribute to the farm culture of the Oxnard Plain with historic buildings, lots of antique farm equipment to explore, and an active vineyard. In addition, K.O. Tacos will be available for food and musical entertainment by Frank Barajas. The park is free to attend.

The second event will be at the Foster Library in Ventura on Sunday, October 24, and presented by the Friends of the Library. There will be a display of historical pictures and artifacts featured in the book. Ms. Chess begins speaking at 1:45 p.m. for twenty minutes, and then a Q&A will follow. Learn about the state of Foster Library during the Pandemic and how it continues to serve the community. This is a free event. At both, Ms. Chess will have copies of the book for sale.

Caroline joined KCLU in October 2020. She won LA Press Club's Audio Journalist of the Year Award in 2022 and 2023.

Since joining the station she's won 10 Golden Mike Awards, 5 Los Angeles Press Club Awards, 2 National Arts & Entertainment Awards and a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Writing.

She started her broadcasting career in the UK, in both radio and television for BBC News, 95.8 Capital FM and Sky News and was awarded the Prince Philip Medal for her services to radio and journalism in 2007.

She has lived in California for eleven years and is both an American and British citizen - and a very proud mom to her daughter, Elsie.