Pollen Ranch opens on Pine in Exeter
By Nancy Vigran Reporter for the Sun-Gazette
EXETER – Exeter has a new food shop in town. If you are a chef or just have an interest in cooking you may just want to pay a visit to the Pollen Ranch on Pine St.
The Pollen Ranch isn’t new. It’s been around for a couple of decades, but Exeter is now home to its first storefront and its business base of operation.
David Rebb Firman practically grew up collecting pollen and then adding it for increased production in cherries. It’s a skill he learned from his grandmother while living in Washington state.
As a young man Firman decided to move to California where he would find more agriculture to utilize his services. He settled first in Stockton, then moved to Visalia and opened a pollen processing plant in Goshen. The company provides pollination services to almond, pistachio, and stone fruit growers up and down the state.
Firman has made his home in Lemon Cove, which has been the business base of the operation until now.
The Pine St. space became available about the same time the business, under the management of Gary Wooley, began looking for a retail location. Firman wants to turn the old business office out in the country into mother-in-law type of quarters, possibly for a B&B operation, Wollman said. The retail store/office move was on.
While the processing plant remains in Goshen, all food-grade pollen is now shipped from the Pine St. to stores and shops around the country and around the world, as well as individuals who purchase from the website. Lucky Tulare County residents and visitors can purchase right from the shop.
Development of a product line
An avid reader, Firman came up with the idea for food-grade fennel pollen from reading a San Francisco Chronicle food article by Peggy Knickerbocker, shortly before the turn of the century.
“She had just returned from Italy and was raving about the pork with fennel spice,” Woolley said. “She called it the spice that fell from the wings of angels.”
Firman decided to apply his pollen collection experience into another facet of business and worked out a way to extract pollen from the fennel plant. In 2001, he found fennel grew as a native plant in Solano, Sonoma and Napa counties. The company was able to work out agreements with various county, city and state entities to allow extraction of pollen from those native plants, a practice that continues today.
About five years ago Woolley happened upon a vendor in Seattle with fresh flavors of dill.
“It was really good,” he said.
The company then move forward with contacts to purchase dill from this Washington grower.
Around the same time, Firman and Woolley attended a food show and met Chef Bernard Guillas, a master chef from France. Guillas was familiar with fennel pollen as his grandmother had cooked with it when he was a child. He wanted to create different spice blends of it for the Pollen Ranch, Woolley said.
A product line of unique fennel pollen flavorings was formed, including Hog Heaven, Zen-sational (for vegetables), M-ocean, and Divine Desserts, to name a few.
“The unique thing about fennel pollen,” Woolley added, “is that it doesn’t taste like it smells, unless it is all by itself.”
The Pollen Ranch’s certified, organic fennel pollen, the blends thereof, and dill pollen are all available at the new store. It is located at 255 E. Pine St. and is open from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday – Friday. The store operated by Bailey Walter, who is in charge of the food-grade fennel operation, Becky Wallace, business office manager, and Woolley. They are looking to expand the retail shop to include other unique food products in the near future.