A cherry or a cherimoya: A Palms resident’s journey into exotic fruit

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Photo courtesy of Casey Emfinger EXOTIC ORIGINS — Casey Emfinger’s forray into the world of tropical and exotic fruits started with cherimoya’s much like these. Also pictured with branches are atemoyas, which are a hybrid created in Miami in 1908.

You can learn a lot about a person just by the way he speaks. The area they are from, the people they interact with, even the things they like to do, all of these things can sometimes be pulled just from the way they talk.

So, when I spoke to Palms resident Casey Emfinger, and heard the hint of a southern accent native to his home in Alabama, I did not expect the word “cherimoya” to be one of the first I heard out of his mouth.

But what exactly is a cherimoya, and how did Casey get so familiar with this foreign word? Well, it all started with a new house and a tree.

“When we moved into this house, there was a tree here which is still in my yard that had a weird looking fruit on it,” Emfinger remembered.

“It was bulbous and green and looked like it had scales on it. I had no idea what it was, so I took a picture of it and posted it onto Facebook.”

This was all the way back in 2013, before the Trump presidency and the advent of Twitter as an important platform for circulating information, but Casey’s post on the page “Tropical Fruit Group” was still able to get his answer in the blink of an eye.

“Within seconds, I had a bunch of people saying ‘cherimoya, cherimoya, cherimoya,’” 

Casey Emfinger

Curious about the scaled sphere growing in his backyard, Emfinger decided that he would taste the fruit. What he didn’t know is he would love that very taste so much, it would change his life, and send him on a new journey he hadn’t even known existed.

“I would reckon it is one of my top five now. It’s got what I would say is a pina colada taste; it is an amazing fruit.”

With the sweet, succulent taste of the cherimoya fresh on his mind, Emfinger suddenly had

“I had always loved fruit; I had been used to the apples and oranges and bananas that you find in American grocery stores, but that lit a fire under me to go find more tropical fruits that I have never heard of before,” Emfinger said. 

Emfinger, who is a Navy veteran and worked for Sony in Culver City, decided that he wanted to learn more about these fruits.

FROM THE BARK — Another one of Emfinger’s favorite fruits is the jabuticaba, which Emfinger says have a “creamy grape flavor.” The jabuticaba is native to Brazil, and is unique in that the fruits grow directly off of the bark.

Soon, Emfinger became an expert on these tropical and exotic fruits, constantly on the lookout for interesting new things to grow.

“I’ll search online and watch different videos and find there’s a fruit that I have never heard of before,” Emfinger told The News. “If I see something and it looks interesting to me, I’ll order it online or get it from my friend in the San Gabriel Valley…he’s from Vietnam, so he tries to bring his favorite varieties from there to here.”

Of course, with exotic fruits comes extensive care needed to nurture them and allow them to grow, and Emfinger’s path to obtain the knowledge required wasn’t all covered in sunshine and roses.

“At the beginning, I was pretty much just killing a lot of plants,” Emfinger admits. 

To keep his plants alive, Emfinger absorbed information like a sponge. He went on a documentary binge, learning about all sorts of different fruits and how they are cared for. He found a specialized nursery in the San Gabriel Valley where he could find potential trees to grow. He learned about the soil they needed, the type of fertilizers that were used, the sun/shade ratio that he should be giving each individual plant, and all the other little things that make tropical fruit growing such a task in the States.

Take the cherimoya, for example. There are no natural pollinators of the fruit present in the states, so cherimoya growers must hand pollinate the flowers themselves.

The knowledge that he has accrued has given him a reputation, which has resulted in Emfinger working with several high-profile names on growing a particular fruit not seen in the US.

With this confidence behind him, Emfinger is now looking to turn this hobby into something that can be sustained. He recently got his farm certified by LA County, and is looking for a larger property to grow his fruit on.

“What I have been looking for is an area where I can have a little plot of land that isn’t too far away that I can tend to three times a week and make sure that things are fine and no one is getting into the area, but it has been tough finding that here.” Emfinger outlined.

“Land is obviously a little expensive, especially since I am out of work right now, but the goal is to really turn this from a garden into an actual working farm.”

It is that passion and knowledge that Emfinger has of his exotic fruits that parents inspire to instill in their children for future success, and it is people like Emfinger that get to that finish line and achieve their dreams.

For the sake of being able to have a cherimoya, I for one hope Emfinger makes it there.