News From the Farm | August 13, 2018

Rest in Peace John Ceteras

This past Saturday, family, friends and neighbors from our Capay Valley and beyond came together to celebrate the life of our friend and neighbor, farmer John Ceteras. John recently passed away after a long, concerted and very private battle with cancer. He was 74 years old and is survived by his wife and artist, farm partner, Gretchen, son Noah and grandson, Jack. With Gretchen, John farmed Blue Heron Farm, a 20-acre certified organic farm in Rumsey. As an elder, his passing leaves a void in our community, but his legacy inspires seasoned and beginning farmers alike.

Known for winter navel oranges, unsurpassed for flavor and quality, Blue Heron Farm has a long been a feature of prominent produce displays at both the Sacramento Natural Foods Coop and Monterey Market in Berkeley. For 3 decades the Ceteras’ have sold their fruit, nuts and wood-burned Dream Gourds at the Marin Civic Center Farmers Market. As some long time CSA members may recall, we proudly supplemented our mid-winter boxes with Blue Heron navel oranges for many years before we began producing our own citrus.

John was as proud and passionate a farmer as there ever was. A 1970’s back-to-the-lander, committed to organic farming and certified organic since 1983, John’s enviable focus on producing the most delicious, nutritious and gorgeous fruit was his life’s work. As an immediate neighbor, I never saw John scrimp on any care of his land nor his beloved orchard.   A tidier, more attended and managed farmstead would be hard to find. It is a showcase to the love John had for his farm and life. I often teased John that he should win the “Tidy Farm” award. I was always a little jealous of how organized, methodical and sane his farm appeared.  Blue Heron Farm is truly a beautiful, thriving spot on this earth.

Three Farmers

Like so many people that make up a community, John’s contribution to our little Capay Valley was widespread in both public and personal ways. An overflowing crowd convened for his celebration of life service on Saturday, including many local volunteer firefighters with whom John served for 27 years.  While a squad member delivered her eulogy, suddenly all of the two-way radios and pagers in the room sounded an alarm and call to attention, followed by a dispatch announcing, “Last call for Capay Valley Fire Fighter John Ceteras.” As the firefighters in the room all stood at silent attention, it was a deeply touching farewell from a community that he long served. There was not a dry eye in the room. Speaker after speaker shared stories conveying John’s commitment to what his son, Noah, called the 3 F’s: family, farming, and firefighting.

My own personal tribute has to do with how his oranges changed my life forever. Twenty-four Februaries ago, a beautiful, young graduate student from Texas arrived at our farm looking for a job. As we talked, I offered her an orange from boxes just delivered from Blue Heron. Something happened in those next few moments. As I later found out, she fell in love at first bite with that special fruit and that young farmer that stood there talking and eating with her. That gal and fellow married two years later and the rest is, as they say, history for my wife, Anna and me. As we listened to the memorial service, to so many people praising John’s oranges, Anna at one point leaned over, whispered in my ear, and reminded me, “it was the citrus, sweetheart!”

— Andrew Brait