Ojai Pixie Tangerines Growers Association: Resilience, Anticipation and Brix

Ojai Pixie Tangerines Growers Association: Resilience, Anticipation and Brix

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When March winds blow, we’re especially excited for the first shipments of the highly anticipated Ojai Pixie Tangerines to arrive at grocers in the Northeast. These little gems, at the peak of flavor in late March through May, are grown in the Ojai Valley of California – Ventura and Santa Barbara counties north of Los Angeles. They are sweet, seedless, easy to peel, and only available for a few weeks each year.

Wait, why is RT, champion of local Northeast produce, selling citrus from California? When Emily Ayala of Friends Ranch approached us a few years ago looking for an east coast marketing partner, we asked the same question. The more we learned, the more we saw a win-win opportunity — for us, for the pixie growers, for our customers, and for winter-bound fruit lovers.

Ojai Pixies are a specific variety of tangerines grown only by small family farms in the Ojai Valley. They needed someone trustworthy to bring their fruit to eastern markets. Their values about using eco-friendly growing practices align with our Eco Program, and the growers are small and mid-size farms with market challenges and a cooperative spirit that is similar to our network of Northeast farms. And no one grows Pixie tangerines in our region!

We realized we could offer our customers a unique and wonderful fruit that eaters would look forward to every year. Our network of Northeast growers also benefit as we diversify our winter sales and strengthen our relationship with wholesale buyers. Pixie season starts just as winter sales of Eco-certified apples tend to slow, and give us something to savor until the start of strawberry season. We’ve been partners ever since.

Two Ojai growers, Tony Thacher and Jim Churchill, planted commercial quantities of Pixie tangerines in the early 1980’s and they “insist that there is more to an Ojai Pixie than a cute name. The combination of fruit and place really is special,” they say in a 2006 LA Times article.

“Citrus is much more site specific than other fruit, and tangerines are the most site specific of all the citrus,” says Thacher. He says even within the limited confines of the Ojai Valley, there can be as much as six weeks’ difference in the ripening of the same variety, from one orchard to another.”

By the mid-1990s, several other growers had begun planting Pixies, and they joined together to form the Ojai Pixie Growers Association, “to share information about growing this finicky fruit and to coordinate the marketing of Ojai Pixie Tangerines.” They still meet every month, usually in a local coffee shop. Today there are around 50 growers in this network – family farmers ranging from just a few trees to several thousand.  “Where there were once only a scattering of trees, there are (now) more than 26,000 in the Ojai Valley.”



In December, 2017, the Thompson Fire, the biggest fire in the state’s history, burned for almost 40 days and ravaged the Ojai Valley. Approximately 440 square miles were affected, and 1300 structures, mostly homes, were damaged, including an Ojai Tangerine packing house. A period of extremely dry weather followed by intense winds made fire conditions especially dangerous. Electrical wires sparked the original blaze, which spread rapidly to surrounding ridges and valleys. Damage included fruit knocked from trees by wind, orchard edges toasted by heat and fire, and water lines melted by the intense heat.

Ojai growers prepared as best they could by giving their trees extra irrigation, and kept in touch by text to monitor the safety of their neighbors and property as people evacuated during the worst of the fires. It’s difficult to imagine the level of destruction and cost that the Thompson Fire wreaked on the region. According to some reports, Ventura County farmers and ranchers alone faced “the cost to replace farm machinery and equipment at $25 million. Cost of land damages, including cost to replace trees, reached $3.4 million, while loss of irrigation systems totaled another $1.1 million.”

Miraculously, many Ojai pixie orchards came through the fires relatively intact; burned trees will take years to come back into fruit, and winds caused some of the worst damage. The packing plant was repaired, the community rallied to support those who had lost their homes, and by the spring 2018 season many of the trees were in bloom again. A strong cooperative spirit and healthy orchards point toward a resilient, hopeful future.


What Brix?

The Brix Scale is a measurement of sucrose levels in foods and is often employed to express relative sweetness of food and drink like wine, cider, maple syrup, honey, juice and produce. The degrees of Brix may increase as the fruit ripens. For example, an orange may range from an okay-tasting 10 degree rating to a 20 Brix.

This season’s harvest of Ojai Pixies’ Brix is 17.5 – 18.3. For comparison, the average Brix of a tangerine is 11.5. When they say sweet, they mean it!

As their website proclaims: “Ojai Pixies… are not Cuties, Halos, Sweeties, Delites or Smiles– we are Ojai Pixies;” that is, a unique variety of Pixie tangerines grown in the Ojai Valley.  First developed by University of California in 1927, and released commercially in the 1960s, Pixies are one of several hundred varieties of mandarins—(all tangerines are mandarins, but not all mandarins are tangerines)– in the world, of which only a few dozen are grown in commercial quantities.  Pixies make up less than 1% of the California tangerine crop, making them an especially rare find.

We encourage you to scoop up this small but mighty sweet fruit when you see it. One reliable produce broker we know says “It’s like the Pixies have a cult following!” Naturally seedless, small, easily peeled, Ojai Pixies are perfect for little hands and nourishing for all.


A few of the places you can buy 2021 Ojai Pixies in the Northeast: