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For the love of lemons

Mar./Apr. 2011 California Country magazine
Story and photo by Tracy Sellers

San Mateo County farm soars with a sour fruit!


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Karen Morss knows the sweet taste of success—even if she is a lemon farmer.

A former businesswoman in the software industry, Morss retired from the corporate world in 1998. To fill her time, she turned to the sky. She bought two airplanes and a flight school while she was still a student pilot. But her love for Meyer lemons prevailed over her passion for aviation, and after five years of running the flight school, she sold it and began looking at retirement. She planned to subdivide her three-quarter-acre property to finance her retirement but when zoning regulations made that impossible, this lemon lover had another idea.

"I was looking at this big backyard full of weeds and thought, 'What in the heck am I going to do with this?'" Morss remembered. "And then I thought, 'What could be better than walking amongst an orchard full of my favorite fruit?' The idea just kind of snowballed from there."

Thin-skinned and slightly less acidic than other varieties, Meyer lemons are known as "backyard lemons" because they're usually too fragile to ship so are not often sold commercially.

In 2004, Morss ended up buying 40 dwarf Meyer lemon trees and planting them in her backyard in San Mateo County. Lemon Ladies Orchard was born. Her "retirement" venture now produces about 6,000 pounds of lemons during harvest season, which is typically September through May.

Although the name of her business is plural, there is only one lady here.

"Lemon Ladies isn't real big," Morss said with a chuckle. "People think that I have a whole crew of ladies working here, but nope, it's just me!"

Morss is owner, operator and self-proclaimed "orchardess" on her farm, harvesting, cleaning and packaging her prized Meyer lemons herself.

"These trees are like my babies and so these lemons are really special to me," Morss said, then explained how Lemon Ladies Orchard got its name: "Each tree is named for a woman who inspired me or helped me achieve my goals in life. Some are from my family, some are from the flight school and some are just people who inspired me in general. There is an Amelia Earhart lemon tree out there. And an Oprah Winfrey tree and a Martha Stewart tree, too."

Morss has found a steady stream of customers for her lemons by selling mostly to local markets, restaurants and bakeries and on her website, www.lemonladies.com.

"Everybody is so happy when I show up with a delivery of lemons," she said. "They open up a box and almost automatically smile. It's like I'm giving them a box of California sunshine. I can't think of any other fun way to spend my day."

Tracy Sellers is a reporter for California Country. She can be reached at 800-698-FARM or tsellers@californiacountry.org.

For more information about Lemon Ladies Orchard, visit www.lemonladies.com.

For more information about the Flea St. Café, visit www.cooleatz.com.


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