Local grower's work gives rare, historic fruit trees a chance to survive in Silicon Valley

MORGAN HILL, Calif. (KGO) -- The Silicon Valley was once revered as the Valley of Heart's Delight, a region rooted in fruit production. Now, it's known as the hub for high tech and innovation.

In our effort to help build a better Bay Area, we're putting a spotlight on one man who has made it his mission to keep rare and vintage fruit trees in the changing valley.

In present-day Silicon Valley, the word "apple" carries different weight. However, fruit growing in the region has remained.

"These are the quinces," grower Todd Kennedy pointed out on a private tour of the Arboreum Company orchard.

Kennedy is a co-founder of the Arboreum Company in Morgan Hill.

He grows and sells rare and vintage fruit trees from the company's orchard in an undisclosed area of Morgan Hill. Kennedy explained the elusive stone fruit trees throughout the orchard stood to be lost if he didn't step in.

"The oldest varieties we've got here are probably 800 or 900-years-old," he told ABC7 News.

Each tree is a different variety. According to Kennedy, there are up to 880 different varieties planted at the orchard.

"Most of the varieties here, however, are historical varieties from the United States from the past 200 years," he added.

Kennedy said there is a much greater demand for stone fruits and figs than other fruits at the orchard.

"Stone fruits are those that have pits in the center," he explained. "They're peaches, nectarines, plums, plumcots, cherries, even almonds."

Fruits you won't find at your local grocery store.

"The other ones generally might finish their days just on the kitchen counter in a fruit bowl. Just as a decoration for the kitchen," Kennedy explained. "But our fruits are eaten, they don't sit around for very long at all."

Kennedy comes from a family familiar with fruit growing. He said his father was raised on a prune and apricot ranch in Los Gatos. His mother's family grew citrus and avocados in Orange County.

He explained when State Agriculture Experiment Stations were being shut down in the 1980s, he took it upon himself to collect several varieties for safe keeping.

Once funding returned to federal repositories, representatives turned to Kenned for plant material to grow and preserve new trees.

"Certainly, 10 years ago, at least half of all the national collection, the stone fruits and a lot of grapes and figs and other varieties had come from this orchard," he explained.

Kennedy continued, "I provided all of what I had saved from the old state experiment station collections to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service."

Quite the responsibility, as growing is Kennedy's second job.

"This is just on the side," he said. "In real life, I'm an agricultural lawyer."

Kennedy grew up in the Peninsula but has watched Santa Clara Valley change. He said the region continues to provide the best conditions for successful growth.

"There's a reason why this orchard happens to be just right where it is, here on the east side of Morgan Hill," he said. "More different species of fruits, and more different varieties can be grown here than anywhere else in North America."

"All of us here, together in Morgan Hill are keeping Santa Clara Valley the center of fine fruit growing in North America," Kennedy added.

The fruits of his labor are available online, or in-person at Andy's Orchard.

Kennedy prides himself on being able to provide an actual taste of history for the Bay Area and beyond.

"They don't have to travel all the way across the United States, or they don't have to travel back in time even," he said. "You don't have to be here in the 1950s because we've kept these varieties alive. They're still here."

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