A property for sale in northeast Morgan Hill is an essential part of one of the oldest productive orchard operations in Santa Clara Valley, according to grower Andy Mariani, who currently leases the agricultural site.
While Mariani, owner of Andy’s Orchard, feels a slight “fear of the unknown” over what could become of the property on Elm Road when it sells, there is some hope that he will be able to continue to maintain the orchard for at least the foreseeable future.
“I’m one of the few people that is still planting new orchards,” Mariani said. “The reason is, I have a specialty market and I can do that. The landowner has the benefit of getting some income, and keeping the weeds and gophers down. And they get to see an orchard. It’s a good deal for them as well.”
Mariani has leased about 7 acres of the 10-acre property for several years. He has grown an eclectic variety of stone fruits—apricots, peaches, nectarines and more—on the orchard on site; these include some rare varieties that only Mariani is growing in California.
But Mariani’s latest 10-year lease on the property expired earlier this month, and the agriculturally zoned parcel is now for sale. The listed price is just under $1.8 million—more than Mariani can afford.
The property is a former ranch site long owned by the Friebel family, according to real estate agent April Tavares of Keller Williams Realty. In addition to the orchard, the property contains a two-story residence, accessory dwelling unit, barn, workshop and other storage structures.
Tavares said the property has received numerous offers, some surpassing the $1.8-million asking price. Agents have shown the property about 20 times since it was listed earlier this summer, and most of the prospective buyers have expressed interest in keeping the orchard alive and active.
“It’s kind of nice to think that’s going to be preserved,” Tavares said.
The cutoff deadline for offers on the property, located at 17805 Elm Road, was July 30. Tavares said the parcel could be sold within the week.
Andy’s Orchard’s top crop is cherries, but Mariani is also known for his expertise and longtime experimentation with stone fruits.
He and his siblings own about 60 acres of farmland in northeast Morgan Hill—mostly devoted to cherries.
Mariani also leases an additional 15 acres of orchard land, including the Elm Road site. If the future new owner decides to convert the Elm Road orchard to non-agricultural uses, it would take out about one-third of all of Mariani’s active stone fruit crops.
“It would be difficult if I lose it,” Mariani said.
Mariani added that he asked City of Morgan Hill staff about using the city’s agricultural mitigation program to help save the Elm Road orchard, but there are currently not enough funds in the program.
The uncertainty over the agricultural site emphasizes a larger trend that has played out in Santa Clara Valley repeatedly in recent years, Mariani said. As the original owners of agricultural parcels die or become unable to continue farming, their heirs often decide to sell the land, which has grown exponentially in value since their parents or grandparents purchased it. The new owners often then convert the property to uses more profitable than agricultural—and this is largely how the Valley of Heart’s Delight transformed into Silicon Valley over the years.
“These lands were bought in the 1950s and 1960s, when you could buy five to 10 acres and put a house on it, wait around and hopefully it appreciates,” Mariani said.
Mariani’s original orchard was planted by his father, Joseph, in 1957, according to Andy’s Orchard’s website. The family had immigrated to the U.S. in the 1930 and settled in Morgan Hill.
The Andy’s Orchard fruit market, located at 1615 Half Road, has been a popular spot lately as the stone fruit harvest is underway. Mariani said the local community has always been supportive of the market and local produce, and that support hasn’t waned during the pandemic.
“We’re doing better business now than we were before Covid,” Mariani said.