Local cherries are here! – Rai brothers open fruit stand and others will soon follow

By on June 13, 2017

Members of the Rai family show off the first local cherries of the year, Chelans, that they started selling Sunday at the Rai Produce stand just west of Osoyoos on Highway 3. From left are Paramjit Rai, Darrell Block, Sarabjit Rai, Gagan Rai and Aman Rai. Brothers Paramjit and Sarabjit run the business, while Block will be running the stand this year. Gagan is the son of Paramjit and Aman is the son of Sarabjit. (Richard McGuire photo)

“You’re late,” I joked.

Two weeks ago, Sarabjit Rai of Rai Produce had confidently told me his first local cherries would be ready on Saturday, June 10 – days or weeks ahead of many other growers.

It was 7:21 a.m. Sunday when he texted me to say the cherries are ready and the family-run fruit stand just west of Osoyoos on Highway 3 would be opening that morning.

Sure enough, Rai, his brother Paramjit, their sons Gagan and Aman and Darrell Block, who will be running the stand, had boxes of sweet and ripe Chelan cherries at their stand when I showed up just after 9:30 a.m. Sunday.

The BC Tree Fruits Cooperative told me two weeks ago that Okanagan cherries would be arriving near the end of June. But remembering that Rai Produce last year had cherries ready at the start of the May long weekend, I checked with Sarabjit when he expected his cherries to be ready.

June 10, he told me without any hesitation.

He attributes the head start to the location of his orchards right next to the U.S. border, the terrain and the perfect soil.

Although his cherries are at the stand a day later than forecast, they were in fact ready on the 10th as flocks of well-fed birds can attest.

Paramjit said many trees were picked clean by birds on Saturday. It’s part of nature, he shrugs, and right now the Rai orchards are the birds’ best source of fresh cherries. But the brothers knew they’d better get picking.

Last year when I reported that the family had cherries ready at the start of the May long weekend, a few Doubting Thomases told me they thought the Rai Brothers were probably selling imported cherries and passing them off as local.

Of course, I didn’t believe that, but this year I asked them to show me the orchards where the cherries were being picked so I could set the Doubting Thomases straight.

They led me down to their orchards off 2nd Avenue, quite literally a cherry pit spit from the U.S. border just south of Osoyoos.

There, they showed me trees with just pits on the branches, recently picked clean by the birds.

A little further down the row, I met Alfredo Garcia Rosas, a Mexican worker, who was picking ripe Chelans with his brother Cesar.

Looking for an opportunity to practice my Spanish, I asked Alfredo about himself as I photographed him picking.

They come from the small town of Cuijingo in Mexico State, southeast of Mexico City and within sight of the spectacular, snow-capped volcano Popocatépetl. It’s a town just a little larger than Osoyoos that grows a lot of corn.

The Garcia brothers are in Osoyoos for seven months this year to work and they’ve been coming to Canada for 25 years. Years ago, they also picked tomatoes in Ontario.

The Rai brothers then take me to another orchard across the road where they show me some other early varieties that are almost ready – Santinas and one I’m not familiar with called Early Robin.

They let me taste an Early Robin. It’s not quite ready to pick, so is just slightly tart, but has a wonderful favour, very different from the Chelans. It looks and tastes much like the better-known Rainiers.

There’s other fruit on the trees. Peaches are still small and green – so small that I mistook them for apricots until I looked more closely.

Very soon other growers will also have their cherries on the stands and soon enough the apricots, peaches and plums will follow.

Let the Okanagan fruit season begin!

RICHARD McGUIRE

Osoyoos Times

Alfredo Garcia Rosas picks cherries in the Rai Produce orchards literally a cherry pit’s spit from the U.S. border south of Osoyoos. Garcia and his brother Cesar are from a small town in the state of Mexico in Mexico and they’re here for seven months to work. They’ve been coming to Canada to work for 25 years. (Richard McGuire photo)

Alfredo Garcia Rosas picks cherries in the Rai Produce orchards literally a cherry pit’s spit from the U.S. border south of Osoyoos. Garcia and his brother Cesar are from a small town in the state of Mexico in Mexico and they’re here for seven months to work. They’ve been coming to Canada to work for 25 years. (Richard McGuire photo)

Alfredo Garcia Rosas holds a box of cherries that he and his brother Cesar have just picked at the Rai Produce orchards next to the U.S. border south of Osoyoos. At left is Sarabjit Rai and on the right is his brother Paramjit. (Richard McGuire photo)

Sarajit Rai shows some Early Robin cherries that aren’t quite ready to pick. This less-known variety is lighter in colour and is not unlike a Rainier. They’re tasty already, though still just a slight bit tart. Rai suggests they’ll be ready within a week. (Richard McGuire photo)

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