OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

4:00 P.M.

January 31, 2002

Kiwi II

KiwiFruit.jpg (10258 bytes)

by Robert M. Knight

Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library


This paper updates a paper presented on April 25,1985 entitled "THE KNIGHT BLOOMING KIWI". Seventeen years later, "KIWI TWO" describes how the author markets his kiwifruit since his first paper and ponders how, at eighty years of age and still active, will this business, established thirty two years ago, end.


Robert Knight was born in Redlands, California in 1922. He was the sixth of nine children. He went through the Redlands Public School System, graduating from Redlands High School in 1939. He graduated from the University of Redlands in May of 1943 and immediately reported to Notre, Dame University in South Bend, Indiana as a U. S. NAVY RESERVE MIDSHIPMAN.

The author served four years of active duty with the USN in the South Pacific and Philippine Islands in the protection of ships from magnetic mines. At the end of the war he returned to Redlands and married Winifred Peters of Redlands. In 1946 they bought the orange grove in the Crafton area where they still live today.

As a result of the citrus freeze of 1949, he returned to the University of Redlands to get his teaching credential and Masters Degree. He taught school in the Redlands Public Schools for two years, then taught for twenty-five years more in the San Bernardino Public Schools. He has taught classes at both San Bernardino Valley College and Crafton Hills College.

In 1976 he retired from teaching to devote full time to his kiwi fruit growing and packing business which he started in 1970. He now owns and operates the only kiwifruit packing house in Southern California.

                    Kiwi II

On April 25th. 1985, I presented  my first paper before this esteemed club.  The title of my paper was:  The Knight Blooming Kiwi.  I looked over our membership  information sheet, just recently passed out, and found that only 8 of our present forty active club members belonged to the Fortnightly Club at the time that I presented my first paper, entitled “The Knight Blooming Kiwi”.  After the presentation of the paper, the discussion with questions,  etc. was quite lively.  Several members suggested to me that it would be of interest to prepare a second  paper after an interval of some years had passed to see how conditions, ideas, and results of continued kiwi  production and marketing stayed the same or resulted in different expectations from that expressed in 1985.

          This paper, Kiwi II, is then an attempt  to show what ideas I have about this “business” that I started in 1970.  I was 48 years old in 1970 and will be 80 years old in April.  Little did I anticipate that I would still be growing kiwifruit at the age of 80. In the first paper I told about the derivation of the name kiwi. The history of development of the fruit from a very small fruit, eaten only by monkeys in the Yangtze River area of China to the present,1985, Hayward variety of fruit which is mostly the variety which is sold in today’s markets.  I told about the ideal climate and best growing conditions as well as pests and diseases, irrigation, fertilization, as well as other cultural necessities.

          I answered  the question as to how come I went into the kiwi business by telling of my previous thirty five years of experience as an orange grower.  In 1970 the orange business was not a very remunerative occupation.  I was ready for something new, exciting, and financially rewarding.

          In early 1969 I started reading advertisements in the California  Farmer about a new crop for agriculturists in this state.  This new crop was at first called “Chinese Gooseberries”, but soon was called kiwifruit because of its furry like skin, and its somewhat remote resemblance to the young kiwi bird of New Zealand.  All of the advertising that was appearing in the agricultural magazines was done by Don Armstrong, president of the Cal Chico Kiwi  Company.  These advertisements all had a picture of a happy face, and the statement, “Aren’t you glad you planted kiwis?”

          I wrote to Don Armstrong in April of 1970 and received my first letter from him in June of 1970.  In this letter he suggested that since I was interested in a small  amount of land to begin with, he felt that the best program for me would be his consulting service package.  His fees were  $1800 per acre for the first ten acres.  The letter explained,  ‘Because of the expenses involved and the length of time that the consulting service contract covers, we cannot accept a consulting contract for less than  ten  acres”.

          The consulting services were to include such things as instructions for preparing the land for planting, sprinkler installation instructions, such as depth and initial amounts of water, fertilizer types and amounts, soil treatments, herbicides and insecticides, training and pruning information, pergola installation information, and in general all of the information needed to establish my kiwi ranch, and get it into production.

          Where could I get $18,000 to pay for this consulting service?  My gross salary as a school teacher that year was $13,980.  I only wanted to try about one half acre or an acre at most-not Don Armstrong’s minimum of ten acres.

          To appeal to my sense of greed, and to spur me on to some way find $18,000 for my kiwi  ranch, Don Armstrong continued on in another paragraph,  “By the first commercial yield, your kiwi ranch will be self supporting.  Computer marketing studies done by several companies verify the results of our  own marketing studies show that the value you will find at the bottom of your after tax balance sheet at the end of ten years will show a profit of from $6,300 to $8,700 PER ACRE.

          I agree that the initial capital expenditures are large, but the capital returns are almost unbelievably large.  I don’t think that you will find this proposal unreasonable.  Kiwis have a reputation of being a difficult plant to establish.  The mortality          rate of nursery grown, rancher planted kiwis is well over 70% in the first year alone.  Therefore we believe that since kiwis are our business and taking care of them is our specialty, it is to your advantage to have us assist you with your kiwi ranch and help protect your investment just as we are doing for others.

          There is a very large amount of money to be made from kiwis but the key is to get your kiwi ranch established.  Our experience and knowledge of kiwis can be your key, the most economic key in the long run, to getting your kiwi ranch established and producing.

          Thus I am confident that after you have studied all of the available information, it will be difficult for you to fine a more profitable, long run, investment than kiwis.  When you get down to the bare facts, Mr. Knight, our guarantee says that you don’t have to experiment because we’ve already spent years experimenting for you.

          Needless to say, I did not respond to this letter.  On August 25, 1970,  I received another letter from Don Armstrong as follows.

          Dear Mr. Knight,

“We at Cal Chico Kiwi Company have always felt that kiwi ranching was an exciting new venture with a fantastic potential, and that since there were so many growers who were in need of a new crop like kiwis, that we must work on a ‘first come first served’ basis, and, although you have only had a relatively short time to study the many aspects of kiwi ranching we must, regretfully, inform you that we are unable to enter any further consulting contracts for the 1970 season.”

          Don Armstrong goes on to say that some growers were unable to participate in his consulting program have requested that he sell them plants without the consulting service.  Don continues,  “due to the possible problems that can arise in kiwi ranching we immediately declined their request with the thought that we did not want to be associated with any great ‘Kiwi Disasters.”  As you recall. Our consulting contracts include our guarantee that the grower will have a commercially producing ranch within four and one half years of the contract period.  The guarantee prevents us from being associated with any “Kiwi Disasters” since we don’t let them occur.  However these gentlemen were quite persistent and their logic has compelled us to reconsider our position on this subject.  They pointed out that since our contract growers would not be in constant need of our services we would still have some time to give advice to our non-contract growers.  We agreed with them.  Therefore, since we do have a few thousand more plants that have not been committed to our contract growers, we are offering them to qualified, experienced growers, like yourself, on a  ‘first come first served’ basis.  He goes on to say that they cannot accept orders for less than one acre, and that if I wish to get in on the ground floor of this fantastic industry, I should get in touch with him right  away.

          What a change in just two months time?  I decided then that it might  be possible for me to develop my own kiwi planting without the help of Don Armstrong and the Cal Chico Kiwi Company.

          I went to Chico in September of 1970.  I ordered 75 kiwi plants from the Tanimoto Brothers in Gridley, CA. To be picked up by me the following February in 1971.  Three years later, Cal Chico Kiwi Company was in bankruptcy and the promotion of kiwi vineyards as a quick way to riches was ended.

          In 1972 I removed the citrus from another acre of my property and replaced these citrus trees with another 112 more kiwi vines.

          In 1976 my oldest son, then being a senior at the University of Redlands,  removed another acre of citrus trees and replaced them with kiwi vines.

          In 1979 our kiwi acreage produced 5% of  all the kiwifruit produced in the United States from just two  and one half acres.  That year I picked 385 pounds of fruit from just one kiwi vine for which I received $1.35 per pound.  Needless to say at that kind of production and that price per pound of fruit, I was looking forward to the future results from the additional seven and one half acres of kiwis that I planted in the Spring of 1979.

          In 1979, my income from the two and one half acres of kiwis that I had in production was $42,000.  The year 1980 was a rude shock to my dreams of becoming financially independent.  Due to the lack of winter chilling for the new crop, and the production of very few blossoms appearing on the vines in the Spring of 1980 my income dropped to $3200 for the year.

          From the very start of my kiwi adventure up to the year 1985, when I presented my paper, The Knight Blooming Kiwi, before the Fortnightly  Club,  all of my fruit was handled through my broker, Frieda Caplan, who is credited with changing the name from Chinese Gooseberries to Kiwifruit.

          At this time Frieda talked with me and told me that she was unable to give me the money per pound that I had been receiving from her since I began producing kiwi fruit.  She told me that I should look around for someone else to market my fruit for me.

          The title for my first paper, “The Knight Blooming Kiwi” came about from comments made by my wife and daughter as to how wrapped up in the kiwi business  I had become and could not think of anything except those “Blooming Kiwis”  This name has now become a family joke.

          About this time the acreage of Kiwi fruit in the state of California was about 9,000 acres.  Today, 2002, this acreage has dropped to a bit less than 6,000 acres.  Many people who entered this business looking for an income tax write off, received more of a tax loss than they wanted and dropped out of this investment opportunity.

          I still farm ten acres of kiwis but today I don’t know how much longer I will continue with them.

          Let me give you a little idea as to how I market these kiwis, and see how much longer could an eighty year old man and his wife continue a life style that we now experience.

          The problem for both Frieda Caplan and myself started in 1985 when a Kiwi Commission was established through a Federal Marketing Order that set   strict limits on kiwi sizes, shapes, and packing requirements for kiwis that could be sold to the public through conventional markets. The Federal Inspection of all kiwis sold for resale was one requirement that was instituted which resulted in only sixty percent of the fruit could be sold.  One requirement was that a kiwifruit could not be wider than it was tall.  If this  was the shape of a kiwi, that kiwi was declared to be a cull kiwi and could not be sold through regular market channels.  Possibly 15% of all kiwis  fall into this category of being wider than they were tall.  These fan shaped fruits taste as good  or better than the round shaped fruit, yet the Marketing Order would not allow them to be marketed.  So they were thrown out or given away, or used for cattle food.  What a waste?  The Marketing Order did say that these misshapen fruit could be sold only  in Certified Farmers Markets.  AS a result of these strict requirements for marketing, I began to go to Certified Farmers Markets  to sell my kiwis.

          Since my 1985 paper, Kiwi One, if you please, the idea of selling most of our fruit in Certified Farmers Markets has helped us out greatly.  The word Certified means that the County Agricultural Commissioner has your agricultural activities examined and that he certifies that your products for sale are grown by you and that it is not just resale of produce bought from a wholesaler of the product or at a packing house.  My wife and I go to three Certified Farmers Markets each week.

          On Friday morning we get up at 5 AM and leave home in our 1987 Toyota 1 ton truck for the weekly Certified Farmers Market held in “Uptown Whittier” on Bailey Street near Greenleaf in Whittier at 6:15 AM.  It takes us one hour and a half to get there, more or less, depending on the number of accidents that occur along the way.  By 8:00 AM a few people have been appearing at the market unless it is foggy or a rainy morning.  From 10 to 11 AM is the time most customers arrive.  By 12: Noon things start in slowing down. By 1:00 PM the market closes and we load up the truck to come back to Redlands.   Friday afternoon is not a good time to join the exodus of persons leaving Los Angeles County for Las Vegas, the Colorado River, and other places to which vast numbers of people are attracted.  If we stop for lunch at a popular Mexican Restaurant on Greenleaf for as long as 45 minutes, it will take 2 hours to get back to Redlands,  If we leave Whittier by 1:10 PM we might get home in one and one quarter hours.

          On the return trip to Redlands two places present the greatest challenge for safe transit.  The first place is getting from the diamond lane on 60 East and over to the on ramp to highway 15 North.  The three mile section of Highway 15N from Highway 60 to Highway 10 is most always very hectic.  The second place is leaving Highway 15 to get on the highway 10 E  This can be very time consuming when the traffic is heavy.  I have even driven off Highway 15 to Highway 10 W and headed toward Los Angeles to Milliken  Ave.  I get off on Milliken, crossover 10 and then get back on Highway 10 heading East. I then work my way to the number one lane before I get to the Highway 15 overpass.  Many times this #1 lane is the only one that is moving at all.

          On Saturday morning, we get up at 5AM and leave home at 6AM heading West on Highway 10 for the Certified Farmers Market in Pasadena,  This market is held on the parking lot of Pasadena  High School located North of Highway 210 on the west side of Sierra Madre Blvd.  Saturday has less traffic than Friday and things are pretty straight forward.  I usually make use of the diamond lanes when my wife is with me even though the people behind me are sometimes unhappy at how slow I am driving, even if I am going 78 miles per hour.

          I have learned one important fact about diamond lanes and that is don’t be too certain that all people will not cross the double line at any time they choose-not withstanding the many signs saying that such a use is a sure way of becoming a minimum of $271.00 less well off if you are apprehended crossing into or out of the diamond lane except at marked entrance and exit areas.

          The Pasadena Market is a fun market.  We have mad many friends in that market.  This market closes at 1:00 PM just as the Whittier Market.  We take down our stand, load things on to our truck and start for Redlands.  We are waiting for the rapid construction of Rte.30 through Laverne, San Dimas, and Claremont to San Bernardino and on to Redlands via Highland and the Knudsen Interchange.  This route would take a lot of pressure off of Highway 10.

          Again there are two danger points on our return trip to Redlands,  The first one is getting off of what will be known as Route 30 at San Dimas on that part of Highway 210 that goes south and crosses Highway 10 at Kellog Hill.  The second danger point is getting on to  10E at Kellog Hill.  This problem is exacerbated by the fact that you cannot see what you are in store for until it is too late to choose to go south on 71 or 55 to Highway 60 which is less crowded than Highway10.  As you cross high above Highway 10 you sometimes see a vast parking lot of cars and trucks six lanes wide and extending east to Fairplex.

          I have found that if I keep to the far right as if I were going to get off at Fairplex, that I can negotiate this distance more rapidly than trying to work my way over to the lanes on my left.

          I have noticed that the traffic on Highway 10 is much worse than it was before Ontario Mills opened.

          On Sunday we sleep in until 5:30 AM.  We listen to the radio broadcast of the Commonwealth Club while dressing, preparing our sack lunch and eating our breakfast.  By 6:30 we are on the road  to the Alhambra Certified Farmers Market in Alhambra about two and one half miles north of Highway 10 on Garfield, then right on Bay Street about a block.

          The Alhambra market is a good market for us.  It is patronized by many Chinese people.  The kiwi fruit is native to the Yangtze River  Valley  0f China.  Its scientific name is actinidia chinensis.  Possibly this is the reason we sell more kiwis in the Alhambra Certified Farmers Market.  We like the Chinese people very much,  Most of them are happy, pleasant, and have a good sense of humor.

          Having gone to Farmers  Markets on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, we need a day of rest and that is Monday.

          On Tuesday,  I get up at 5:00 PM.  By 5:30 I am on my way with a truck load of kiwifruit consisting of 50 to 75 lug boxes of kiwis each containing 22 pounds of fruit.  I am going to Fontana where I will make deliveries to three places in Fontana,  The first stop is at A.B. Miller High School just south of Highland Ave. and two blocks west of Sierra Ave.  The second stop is made at the  Fontana School District Warehouse which is located on Mango Street and the railroad tracks in a former Sunkist Orange Packing House.  I then go around the corner and get on the Arrow  Route and travel west to Cherry Ave.  Turning left on Cherry, I pass the California Speedway, then cross over Highway 10 continuing south to Jurupa Ave.  Two blocks west of Cherry is Kaiser High School, the newest high school in Fontana.  This is my third and last stop in Fontana.

          I then return to Redlands and load 12 lug boxes of kiwis into my truck and then drive to the Central Kitchen of the San Jacinto School District by way of Beaumont and Lamb’s Canyon to San Jacinto.  I drop these 12 boxes at San Jacinto and return home to Redlands.  Wednesday and Thursday we rest up and try to catch up on some of the many things that need our attention.

          On Friday, this whole cycle repeats itself.  This goes on each week until finally, all of our kiwis are gone.  We start in November and have continues until the first part of August for the longest season, Last year we finished the first part of May due to a poor crop.  Usually we finish up in June sometime.

          The selling of our kiwis to public school is one way of marketing that was not even thought of from 1970 to 1985.  It has proven to be very successful in that many pounds of kiwifruit can be sold without having to spend  hours at a time dealing with individuals one at a time.

Secondly, there is no marketing fee as is required at the Certified Farmers Markets  This fee varies from market to market but ranges from 5 to 7% of your gross sales.

          The opportunity to sell to the schools came about in an interesting manner,  One afternoon I received a telephone call from the head of the Fontana Unified School District District’s Nutrition Program.  She and a  Fontana School District Board Member had just returned from a Nutrition Conference held in Sacramento.  One of the speakers at this conference was a kiwifruit grower from north of Sacramento who had been invited to tell about the value of kiwifruit in a school nutrition program.  She told of the high vitamin C content, the high Potassium content and no sodium content.  She told of the ease of preparation and the wonderful acceptance of the kiwis by the students,  She told about delivering the kiwis to various schools on a weekly basis.  When her presentation was finished, the Fontana School Board member said,  “Do you suppose that she would send her truck with kiwi fruit down to Fontana?”  The school’s nutritionist replied,  “Let’s ask her.” So they did.  The speaker said that she just served schools within forty miles of Sacramento, and that she could not afford to send her truck down to Fontana over 400 miles one way once a week.  She did say that she could give them the name of a kiwi grower in the Fontana area that could furnish kiwis to the Fontana School District.  So my name and telephone number was given to them and I was contacted.  We worked out an arrangement in which I would furnish the kiwis for this new program.  I am now delivering kiwifruit to the Fontana School District for the seventh year in a row.   The School District is happy.  I am happy.  The students who eat the kiwis are   happy.  The cafeteria workers love to serve kiwis.  They say it is so much easier than serving water melons.

          I have become an expert on preparing kiwis to be eaten when they are in the best stage for eating.  The school cafeteria workers want the kiwis that I deliver to them to be ready to eat the next day.  They cannot be bothered by variations in softness or hardness.  They want them to be uniform in their readiness to eat.

I have here the instrument that aids me in knowing how sweet the kiwis will be.  This is a refractometer.  It measures the index of refraction of a beam of light passing through the juice from the kiwi in percentages of soluble solids.  A beam of light will be bent to a greater degree when it passes through a liquid with a larger percentage of soluble solids than it would if  it just passes through pure distilled water.

By California State Law kiwis can not be harvested until they have reached  a “sugar content” of at least six percent.  As soon as a kiwifruit is harvested, the starches in the fruit begin to change to sugars.  Refrigeration slows the rate of change, while warmth speeds up the change.  If the kiwis are stored in a room with ethylene gas the change from starches to sugar is materially hastened.  The exhaust from an internal combustion engine is very high in ethylene gas.  Some years back this was discovered by New Zealanders, who were using propane powered fork lifts in their refrigerated warehouses to move pallets of fruit in and out of their warehouses.  When all of the fruit in the warehouses suddenly softened in just a few days, they found that the ethylene gas from their forklifts had softened all of the fruit at a terrible economic loss to them.  Since that time only electric forklifts are now used in and around kiwifruit refrigerated warehouses.

Through experience, I have learned how to soften kiwis by using apples as the source of ethylene gas.  I have learned at what temperature to store the kiwis in a warm enclosure and for how long a time in order to produce kiwis that are most flavorful.  It is because of this knowledge that cafeteria workers ask me, “Why do your kiwis taste so good while those you get in the stores are so inconsistent in their taste and flavor?”  Because of this, I receive a price for my kiwis that exceeds what I used to get from selling through a broker.  If I were to continue in this business of kiwi producing and marketing I would  work hard to get more school districts to use kiwifruit in their cafeteria and lunch as well as breakfast programs.  Every student who gets a free lunch also gets a free breakfast at Fontana Schools.

Institutional sales are great because one can deliver the product at ties that avoid the worst traffic congestion on the freeways.  When it rains in a Certified Farmers Market sales drop off exponentially.  At times like this you expose yourself to traffic accidents getting to and from the markets.  Increased accidents and low sales are strong arguments for just staying in bed when the alarm goes off and it is raining hard outside.

I know that I would miss some of the things that give satisfaction as well as pleasure to selling kiwis in the Farmers Markets.  Looking back over the seventeen years that have passed since I read my first paper to the Fortnightly Club, I look with pleasure on many fine people that I have met at various markets.

You may wonder why my wife and I put ourselves through all of the mornings of early rising, the inclement weather of some market days, the risk of car accidents on the freeways on our journey  to the markets and return, and the lack of freedom to do other things, but it keeps us moving and  “out of mischief.  We think it is one of the most fun things we have ever done, including travel.  You would be amazed at all the interesting people we meet of different cultures and life styles.  It has been gratifying for us  to find that most people are very, very nice, more than we could ever imagine .  Everybody has a story.

This kiwi experience extending over thirty years has given much enrichment to our lives.  We know with certainty that it has to come to an end.  The question is—How do we end it?

                    ANY SUGGESTIONS?

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