John J. Gless and Janet McCandless were married and together they began what today is known as Gless Ranch. John farmed watermelon and cantaloupe on leased ground in El Toro, California, and Janet sold the fruit that he grew from a trailer at a roadside location.
Recognizing that citrus farming was a thriving industry in Riverside, primarily in the greenbelt and Victoria Avenue areas, John had a vision to pioneer citrus farming in the Woodcrest area of Riverside, on acreage widely deemed unsuitable for this purpose. After gathering information from researchers at UC Riverside, and securing water delivery from Western Municipal Water District, John and Janet obtained a loan from the Federal Land Bank and purchased their first piece of land at the intersection of Iris Ave. and Gamble Ave. in Woodcrest.
John planted the couple’s first orange grove at Iris and Gamble by himself. The grove was appropriately named “Number 1”. John accepted (and ultimately won) a $100 bet from an Orange County farmer who was certain that citrus would never be viable in the granite filled Woodcrest soil.
Despite the major set-back of a devastating frost, a determined John persevered and his first grove began to flourish. John and Janet purchased and planted orange grove “Number 2” near what is now Dauchy Ave. and Van Buren Blvd. Ultimately, a small building was constructed at this location which served as the equipment shop as well as John’s office. Although the shop has since been relocated, John’s office remains at its original location.
With groves 1 and 2 taking off, John and Janet continued to invest in the area and planted “Number 3”, located at Van Buren Blvd. and Barton Road, where the Gless Ranch Farmer’s Market stands today. By this time the skeptics who had pronounced the Woodcrest soil unsuitable for citrus farming, as well as many Southern California land investors, were beginning to take notice as the Gless groves thrived. Several Orange County investors sought out John’s expertise in planting and farming ground in the area, and John J. Gless Orchard Care was born.
By the time the 1970’s arrived, citrus farming was flourishing in Woodcrest and numerous other farmers had joined John and Janet in farming citrus in the area.
On a cold Saturday morning in January, John and Janet revisited an old idea. As Janet once had when the couple was starting out, the kids would sell their fruit roadside. The pair gathered their four children, John S., Betsy, Jeff and Jason in their 1974 Ford station wagon. Parked along Van Buren Blvd. at grove Number 3, they began selling their oranges direct to the customer. After several weekends of brisk roadside orange sales, the tailgate of the station wagon was replaced with a small trailer from the equipment yard. With this, the original “fruit stand” was born.
The popular fruit stand attracted attention from local farmers, and numerous other growers began establishing similar roadside stands. Wanting to distinguish her fruit stand from the others, Janet tasked the kids with naming the fruit stand and designing a logo. Although it is disputed who actually came up with logo (for purposes herein, credit shall be equally given to John S. & Betsy), what is certain is that in the kitchen of the family home, the name Gless Ranch was created, together with the two oranges and leaves that remain unchanged today and still serve as the iconic logo. With name recognition and citrus sales thriving, the first fruit stand building was constructed.
Foreseeing the potential issues with water availability in Riverside, John and Janet decided to diversify the areas in which they farmed and expanded their operations to include the Coachella Valley.
With residential growth swallowing up Riverside farm land, and increasing water issues plaguing Southern California, it became evident that citrus farming in the area was becoming less viable. In an effort to find affordable land and water, Gless Ranch branched out into Kern county. Farm land in Kern County was becoming available as a result of many farmers bowing out of the industry after the devastation of a severe freeze in the 1990-1991 season.
Gless Ranch won a coveted bid to design, plant, and farm the orange grove at the new California Citrus State Historic Park.
The “little fruit Stand” opened on the corner of Dufferin Ave. and Van Buren Blvd. across the street from the California Citrus State Historic Park. This location continues to offer visitors to the park as well as the community, local oranges and produce.
After years of expanding and remodeling the original fruit stand, it became clear that the beloved old building needed to be replaced. While the original structure was failing and needed to be demolished, the decision was made to keep the existing foot print of the store. Plans were finalized and construction began.
The renovation of the “fruit stand” was completed and the new Gless Ranch Farmer’s Market opened at the original location on Number 3 where the old trailer was once parked. The Gless Ranch Farmer’s Market still offers customers the freshest citrus available and the improved sales space allows for many varieties of locally grown fruits and vegetables, local artisan foods and gifts, craft beer, wine, and specialty items of all types.
In addition to oranges, Gless Ranch currently farms grapefruit, tangerines, limes, lemons, dates, avocados and figs in Riverside, the Coachella Valley and Kern County. Gless Ranch has also established a state of the art tree nursery where avocado and citrus trees of all types are propagated and available for sale to the industry.
In an effort to help preserve the agricultural history of Riverside, Gless Ranch still farms the California Citrus State Historic Park, the orange trees lining scenic Victoria Avenue and is preparing to plant a new avocado grove to help revitalize the greenbelt. Although most of the farmers in the Woodcrest area that followed John and Janet have left the area, Gless Ranch continues to farm in Woodcrest, and Number 1 still exists at Iris and Gamble.
Today, John and Janet are pleased to have all four of their children as well as several grandchildren involved with the farming and operation of Gless Ranch.