To Keep the Legacy Alive

Better Walnuts in Red Bluff…

For Asa Robinson, Better Walnuts, the direct-to-consumer sales program of his family’s decades-old farm in Red Bluff, is more than a way to market a healthy, delicious product to the local community. It’s about keeping the legacy of his beloved grandparents, Wesley and Helen Christenson, alive.

“When you have people like my grandma and grandpa, who did right by what the Lord gave them, you want to keep the place,” he says. “The ultimate goal is to first take care of our family and keep this place for our kids and other’s grandkids.”

Wesley and Helen Christenson | Photo by Nadia Martin

“My grandpa and grandma were married 70 years and were out here for most of those years. This place has been usedforgoodforalotofpeople.Wenevermadeitbig,but we always made a living. Families either made it big or they gotout.Grandpamanagedtostaythesame,”saysRobinson, clearly having taken on a philosophy that a life of hard work and integrity can be meaningful and offer contentment.

For Robinson, this meant moving back to his hometown of Red Bluff with his wife and three children after stints as teachers in Marysville and Etna, to take his turn at developing the family farm that had been such an important part of his upbringing. He still works part-time at a charter school in Cottonwood, but a big part of his focus now is developing the farm, which he began doing last November.

Photo by Nadia Martin

“Times have changed as far as the walnut market,” he says. “All the little people are getting priced out. Pretty much the only path forward is to sell direct to consumers.” Fortunately, this is a role Robinson has enjoyed developing, since it brings him in contact with a wide variety of people. Whether dealing with someone in New Jersey who found him on the internet or a customer in Palo Cedro who always offers a jar of homemade jelly when he makes a delivery, he appreciates the connections he makes.

His quest to market his walnuts in the North State has taken him far and wide on cold calls to local stores. “I literally walk in with the walnuts and I ask who’s in charge of buying. If I get someone who likes walnuts, they know they’re good walnuts and they buy them.” One customer introduced him to Enjoy the Store, where his walnuts are consistently popular. “We have a premium product and we’re able to sell them for a better price,” he adds. “When people find them, they spread the word, and that’s what we really want. If they’re local, even better. We have a good value proposition. I’ve never seen walnuts this good in the stores before.”

Photo by Nadia Martin

Robinson notes that there’s been a big learning curve for him moving back to the farm, but he’s certainly not in it alone. His uncle, John Christenson, is the chief farmer and has multiple decades of experience in orchard crops. “It would take me 15 years to get where we’re at, but we’re there in one year because my uncle has so much experience. I might be able to read about it on the internet or read a book, but my uncle just has a sense about it.”

Photo by Nadia Martin

He cites a knowing his uncle recently had about the weather. Robinson was looking at weather sites and didn’t see a call for a freeze. His uncle, however, had a feeling and set conditions on the farm for freezing weather. Sure enough, the cold snap came in and the crops were protected. “That’s the importance of his expertise,” he says. Yet, he adds, “He has done a great job letting me try new things, which can be hard.” Robinson maintains a family newsletter to keep his wide-ranging family informed and involved. “I really want to make it a family operation, so I send out updates,” he says.

While Chandler walnuts, a variety designed at UC Davis in the 1960s, is the current primary crop, Robinson isn’t content with having this be the only one grown on the farm. He has recently planted strawberries and has his sights on other crops that can be sold direct to consumer. He wants the farm to have multiple uses, including horse-riding lessons that his sister plans to offer.

Photo by Nadia Martin

“If you start going in the right direction, you won’t always get exactly where you were thinking,” says Robinson. But the adventure just may be more than you ever expected. And if you get to bring your family onto the farm that formed you while feeding your community, even better. •

Better Walnuts

About Melissa Mendonca

Melissa is a graduate of San Francisco State and Tulane universities. She’s a lover of airports and road trips and believes in mentoring and service to create communities everyone can enjoy. Her favorite words are rebar, wanderlust and change.

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