Heritage orchard provides a reminder of the past

December 10, 2018 — by Kaylene Morrison and Michael Wong

Prior to its transformation into a global center of technological innovation, Silicon Valley was known for the acres of orchards that covered its landscape. Today, only a few heritage orchards remain to serve as reminders of the area’s agricultural past.

One of these heritage orchards is located by the Saratoga Library, nestled between Saratoga and Fruitvale Avenue. In 1984 the Saratoga City Council declared the 13.9 acre Central Park Orchard a Heritage Landmark to ensure that the land would remain undeveloped.

The city-owned orchard has been managed by the Novakovich family since 1975 in exchange for the right to harvest and sell the fruit. The Yugoslavian family, which immigrated to California in 1911 and to Saratoga in 1925, also purchased another orchard located across the street from West Valley College. To this day, it is still owned and run by descendants of the Novakovich family. The property is currently under the ownership of Leah Novakovich and is run primarily by her sons, alumni Matt and George Novakovich.

Over the years, the Novakovichs have stuck to their family’s traditional practices on the farm.

“We’ve been cutting and drying apricots the same way for 50, 60 years,” Leah’s third son, Dan Novakovich, 61, said. “So it’s the same as the way they used to do it back in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.”

Dan said he is not as directly involved with the management of the orchard, since he worked as a firefighter for the city of Santa Clara for 30 years. He was also the only son to get married and have children: a son and a daughter named Emily, 23, who graduated from Lynbrook High.

A fruit stand is set up at the Novakovich Orchards every summer, where Emily has spent her summers working ever since she was old enough. There, the fruit from both the Heritage Orchard and Novakovich Orchard is sold, including cherries from May through June; apricots, peaches and nectarines from June through August; and corn and tomatoes from July through September.

“It takes you back in time,” Emily said. “It’s relaxing and quiet. I get to truly spend as much time as I want there. Just being able to be on the orchard [not hearing] anything for what seems like miles, you feel secluded, and I feel like you don’t really get that in the Silicon Valley anymore.”

Still, she only visits the orchards occasionally. After graduating high school, Emily attended Susquehanna University and majored in marketing. She currently lives in Phoenix, Ariz., where she works at the PetSmart headquarters.

Eventually, it may also become Emily’s responsibility to manage the orchard, as she and her brother are her grandmother’s only grandchildren. “I have no clue,” Emily said, regarding whether she will eventually inherit the orchard. “I just like going over there and helping my grandma out, but who knows.”

Even so, Emily has proposed several ideas for improving the orchard.

“It’d be nice to have a database of previous orders we had,” Emily said. “So if someone calls and says ‘Hey, I’m Sam Smith and I want to order the same exact thing that I ordered last year and ship it to the same ten people that I’ve always shipped it to,’ then we could pull up that order and say ‘OK, let’s do the same exact thing.’”

As Saratoga and neighboring cities continue to modernize, the Heritage Orchard serves as a reminder of the city’s humble beginnings.

“It’s the last vestige of the way things used to be in the Valley,” Dan said.

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