Golden Bear Ranches

A tale of football and farming

John Gibson, owner and farmer of Golden Bear Ranches in Lodi, has long harbored a love for agriculture. While attending Cal Berkeley to play football, he was also working toward a degree in agricultural history. After a career-ending injury, his dreams of becoming a farmer began to come into focus.

“As young as I could remember I always wanted a farm,” says John.

John’s first venture was cherries. With a short, grueling harvest season of 15-hour days, many farmers shy away from the fickle crop. John, however, had already been conditioned for this life, not so much from the days spent as a kid on his grandmother’s farm but really from the football schedule he had kept since high school.

You see, as John explains it, putting in 15 hours every day for several months (cherry season runs about four to six weeks) is exactly how football players operate. And 11 months of prep for one month of harvest, well that’s much like pre-season work leading into game time.

Despite calling them temperamental, and a devastating 2019 cherry season that left Golden Bear without 40 percent of its crop, John still says, “There’s nothing better than cherries.”

In addition to cherries, John also farms tomatoes, stone fruit, figs, almonds, and walnuts.

GBR is different from many Lodi farms for this reason: much of the 130-acre farm’s yield goes to local restaurants here and in the Napa Valley, not packing facilities. Except for the cherries—those are distributed all over the world.

“The first season I was mainly knocking on doors, giving out samples,” John says of securing his clientele. When he started ten years ago, John had about ¼-acre of farmland and 60 percent of his crops went out for samples to get business. By season two, John had 15-20 restaurants ordering.

If you’ve ever had a peach arugula salad at Rosewood, an heirloom tomato salad at Pietro’s, topped a waffle at Towne House with seasonal fruit compote or ordered a Gordito pie from Market Tavern, it’s likely you’ve tasted the fruit of Golden Bear’s labor. 

“If you eat local, that is the most important thing, I think that’s more important than eating certified organic,” John says. That’s partly because when restaurants use local fruits they are picked two days before consumption, not two weeks, and higher in nutrients.

And the biggest compliment John gets from clientele is this: “They taste like the ones I had as a kid from our backyard.”

“We need to do a better job as a community to support the local farmers.” – John Gibson, Owner/Farmer of Golden Bear Ranches

What’s in a Name?

John Gibson named Golden Bear Farms as a nod to his alma mater, and his football career, after the mascot at Cal Berkeley.

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