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Orange picking gives taste of La Verne history

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Gino Dagnino and his daughters Caitlyn Napong and Elianna Ruacho spent Saturday morning picking oranges at the last of the area’s historic orange groves at Heritage Park, 5001 Via De Mansion in La Verne. For $5 visitors to the grove can fill a bag. The park also features grapefruit and other citrus trees. The grove is open Saturdays starting in January and ending when all the oranges have been picked. Saturday was the last day of the season. / photo by Nadira Fatah

Kendra Craighead
Staff Writer

In the United States, food travels an estimated 1,500 miles on average from farm to consumer, The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture says.

Just down the street from the University of La Verne, there is a grove of orange trees where visitors can pick and bag their own fresh fruit.

Heritage Park sells oranges for $5 a bag, but it is also so much more than that.

Located on Via De Mansion Heritage park is a two acre plot of historical land, home to naturally grown orange trees, a seasonal pumpkin patch and a year round petting zoo.

Families purchase fresh fruit while the children explore the park and enjoy free tours, tractor rides, and the overall rustic beauty of Heritage Park.

It is the orange trees, however, that attracts locals.

“Having the opportunity to come out and pick (oranges) and know where they are grown and how they are grown is really important,” Kim Wilson, routine visitor to Heritage Park, said.

Heritage Park became the location for the Weber House in 1985 when the Heritage Foundation was able to rally support from the community and save the house from demolition to preserve it as a part of La Verne’s historical monument.

“If you compare any of these oranges to an orange you get in a typical grocery store, it’s a night and day difference in terms of taste,” Wilson said.

It is also a matter of health, however, as Wilson mentioned how recently there has been a movement in regards to food and an attempt to go back to natural production rather than mass produced foods with chemicals.

“In many ways our grandparents had a healthier lifestyle than we do,” Wilson said.

The park is home to the Weber House, a historical landmark of how life used to be in La Verne in the early 1800s.

The house is accompanied by a barn, an outhouse, chicken coop, a working tractor for rides around the property and garden, all kept up by the volunteers.

“There is always something to do every single week, but it is wonderful because it is peaceful, you’re outside, and the weather is beautiful,” Natalia Haveman, volunteer for four years at Heritage Park, said.

Haveman came to the park with her husband to pick oranges after hearing about the place by happenstance, and her husband volunteered for 10 years before she decided to give it a try herself.

Haveman said that volunteers maintain every operation at Heritage Park. From maintenance at the Weber House and barn, to tending the garden, taking care of the livestock and nurturing the orange trees, they do it all.

“It is just unbelievable how gorgeous it is here,” Diane Rutigliano, a volunteer for almost three years, said.

Rutigliano said that it is not only the participation of the volunteers but also the visitors that makes Heritage Park great.

She loves to see the children who come through with their families and how happy and excited they are to be there.

“This is a great place for kids to hang out and be occupied and to learn and understand the value of fresh produce,” Wilson said.

One of the benefits of Heritage Park is that it is a free place where children can go to learn about the history of La Verne and experience it in an interactive setting with fruit they can pick, animals they can pet and a house they can walk through.

“Heritage Park caters to showing children the lifestyle of the 1800s,” Haveman said.

It is more than just a place to pick oranges. It is a place dedicated to the celebration of the past and provides a setting to enjoy the outdoors with friends or family.

Heritage Park’s orange orchard will be closed until next year.

Kendra Craighead can be reached at kendra.craighead@laverne.edu.

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