Wood Colony invites public to visit for fair

08/03/2014 4:44 PM

08/03/2014 8:33 PM

Wood Colony, the farming enclave that is fighting Modesto’s growth plans, invites the public to see why the place is so special.

The first Wood Colony Country Faire & Colony Tour will take place Aug. 16. It will feature food, crafts, music and other activities at Hart-Ransom School, along with visits to a few of the surrounding farms.

The event will come nearly seven months after the Modesto City Council voted 5-2 to keep the colony, just west of Highway 99, in its general plan. It set aside 1,152 acres for possible business parks and other commercial development, leaving 1,254 acres for farming.

The issue was one of the most contentious to come before the council in recent years, sparking numerous letters to The Modesto Bee and attempts to recall two members.

Organizers of the fair said they want to offer a positive message about what is out there along Beckwith, Dakota and other country roads.

“It’s so characteristic of the colony that instead of anger and protest, the group got together to have a fair and invite people to see their farms and ranches,” said Hillari Delgado, media coordinator for the event. She lives in Modesto but has a background in agriculture and a passion for Wood Colony.

Among the tour stops are Fiscalini Farms, which produces cheese from its own cows, and Mercy Springs Ranch, which will have heirloom tomato tastings. Carriage rides, hayrides and a petting zoo will be offered, as will tours of the Woodland Avenue fire station.

The organizers said they expect at least 500 people at the fair, which they hope will be an annual event. They do not have plans for permanent tourist attractions in this area, where Stanislaus County zoning rules limit commercial uses.

The colony takes its name from Eben Wood, who first farmed there in 1869. Other settlers followed, notably members of the Old German Baptist Brethren, who still are central to the community. The excellent soil has grown wheat, apricots, peaches and other crops, alongside dairy and poultry farms.

Today, almonds and walnuts dominate the landscape, as they do in much of the San Joaquin Valley, but the area still has dairy cows, vegetables, wine grapes and more.

“There are more than 40 different crops grown in Wood Colony,” resident Steve Goldstein said. “We’re not just almonds and walnuts.”

He and his wife, Valerie Goldstein, own Redwood Cottage Farm, where they raise rare-breed chickens and rabbits on 11/2 acres close to the freeway. They will be among the hosts for the Aug. 16 tours.

Roosters crowed and Highway 99 traffic rumbled in the background as the couple showed a visitor around the place last week. They said they could make plenty of money by selling out to a developer, but they have grown to love the colony since arriving a decade ago. They live in a farmhouse that dates to 1898 and have neighbors who have been there for seven generations.

“We’re a community that simply wants to be left alone,” Steve Goldstein said. Except on the 16th.

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