- Author: Penny Leff
Tony Azevedo's father moved the family from Watsonville, where he operated a small dairy, to Stevenson in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley in 1958. Azevedo rented 15 acres of land that had become alkaline through irrigation with no drainage for many years. He put in drainage, worked the land and put it into pasture. Starting with this land and adding 10 or 15 acres at a time, Azevedo developed the 400 acre Double T Ranch as the first organic dairy in the San Joaquin Valley.
Tony Azevedo, with his wife Carol and other family members, kept the organic dairy operating for many years until consolidation and competition in the industry forced them to get out of the dairy business. Fortunately, Tony and Carol had also been growing another passion on the Double T Ranch: The Double T Agriculture Museum and the History Train.
The Double T Agricultural Museum was built as a tribute to all the farm families of the past who have fed Americans. The exhibits reflect the life and times of family farmers and industry from the 1800s to the 1950s. From lovingly restored horse-drawn vehicles and carriages to a full-size restored steam locomotive, the collection is host to many vintage treasures. School-children enjoy visiting the old west town and learning the story of how trains transported California crops throughout the country and brought new life to small towns. Brides can enjoy a ride in an elegant historic horse-drawn carriage before their wedding ceremony at the Double T Ranch venue.
This year, with daughter Arlean Azevedo joining the team, The Double T is inviting the public to enjoy a train journey like no other. Here is how Arlean describes the latest adventure:
"Climb aboard our Historical Dinner Train for an evening of fine dining and a chance to see how the steam locomotive changed agricultural history in the San Joaquin Valley. Your evening will begin with a cocktail hour and a tour of one of California's premier Agricultural Museums. At the sound of the train whistle we'll begin boarding for the two hour virtual reality experience that includes a fifteen minute documentary while enjoying appetizers, followed by dinner. The History Train will leave you with a deep appreciation of what travel was like 100 years ago. Your evening will conclude with dessert and a walk through the “Baggage Car” filled with rail history memorabilia, antiques and collectibles."
Although the next History Train Dinner Tour on May 17, 2019 is sold out, seats are still available for the Saturday June 1, 2019 voyage. Prices are $70 per person and include all beverages, dinner and dessert. Advance reservations and payment are required.
- Author: Penny Leff
New this year – snow in Lathrop!
Christmas carols fill the air, Santa chats with children in the general store full of sweet treats and local crafts and families meet live raindeer and baby farm animals. Meanwhile, a crew of farmworkers-turned-snowmakers work 24 hours a day blowing 100 tons of snow onto a tube-sledding slope. It's all at the Dell’Osso Family Farm right off Highway 5 just south of Lathrop. Welcome to the latest family adventure in the San Joaquin valley, Holidays on the Farm.
Ron and Susan Dell’Osso started taking their October pumpkin patch and corn maze seriously about eight years ago, and last year about 140,000 people showed up to buy pumpkins, enjoy the corn maze, haunted house, pony rides, pumpkin blaster, and otherwise play on Dell’Osso Family Farm. Tourists contributed about 50 percent of the San Joaquin County farm’s gross annual income. The other 50 percent of income comes from 350 acres of pumpkins, Indian corn and other seasonal specialty crops sold wholesale through a broker to grocery stores throughout the Western United States.
This March, the Dell’Ossos started researching Christmas attractions in order to extend their agritourism season. They bought a train and a zipline, built a general store with a bakeshop, learned how to make snow and opened the first annual “Holidays on the Farm” in late November. The train, zipline and store make business sense when they are amortized over both the October and December holiday seasons. The Snow Tube Mountain is already popular, with online reservations recommended for the $15.00 90-minute sessions of tubing, since the hill can only hold 250 tubers each session.
Why would these third-generation farmers turn to corn mazes and snow-making? Susan Dell’Osso explained that agritourism spreads the risk. Commercial farmers hope to make a three percent return on crops like alfalfa or pumpkins, and some years, like last year, 50 percent of the pumpkin crop can be wiped out by wet weather and mold problems.
Holiday attractions like Dell’Osso’s are also great ways to connect to and support the local community and offer low-cost entertainment for local families. Dell’Osso Family Farm tries to keep the prices low. There is no charge for parking or admission and some activities like the hay rides and go-cart speedway are free. They also include more than twenty local non-profit organizations by offering concession opportunities for volunteers to donate their time to benefit organizations including the Lathrop Senior Center, the Lathrop Police and Fire departments and the Lathrop Square Dance Club. In addition to extending the work season for many farmworkers, all of the agritourism employees are hired locally, and the popular operation is a major contributor to the local tax-base.
Watch for more pumpkin patch operators to jump on the December holiday wagon next year!