A historic piece of Clovis farmland that for decades grew sweet-tasting peaches could soon be growing a different kind of crop.
The owners of the property, the Smittcamp family through the Smittcamp Foundation, are partnering with The Well Community Church to build a spiritual training and community center on the 52-acre Wawona Ranch at Minnewawa and Nees avenues in Clovis. The ranch is just east of Buchanan High School.
"This property has been used for years to grow fruit," said Pastor Brad Bell, directional leader of The Well. "Now we want to use it to help grow people."
Although the plans are still in their infancy, Bell's vision includes a place for children and students, recreational green space, a ropes course, gymnasiums, an outdoor and indoor auditorium, a chapel, reception venue, a counseling center, meeting space, a retail component and non-profit incubator.
The church, founded in 2002 with about 40 college students, has been on a growth spurt. It has two campuses, at Palm and Gettysburg avenues and at Maple and Nees avenues, that are attended by more than 4,000 adult, children and student members. And it needs room to grow.
Bell said the new project will help the church carry out its mission of "helping people connect to God and to each other in every neighborhood."
That message, especially as it applies to young people, resonated with the Smittcamps, a long-time farming family in the central San Joaquin Valley.
Earl and Muriel Smittcamp, founders of Wawona Ranch, began their humble operation in 1945. And over the years, their 200-acre orchard grew to include multiple operations, including Wawona Frozen Foods, a pioneer in the frozen fruit industry and major supplier of fresh frozen peaches, strawberries and mixed fruit.
The elder Smittcamps passed away in 2014 and 2009 respectively, but their children, Bob Smittcamp, Carol Copeland, Betsy Kimball and Bill Smittcamp have continued their legacy of philanthropy and business.
As part of the partnership, The Well will keep the Smittcamp's family home and use it for receptions, events and as a gathering place for the community. Also likely to stay will be The Peach Tree fruit stand, a Clovis landmark on Minnewawa Avenue.
The family and the church are still discussing if any of the peach trees on the property will remain. Also on the property is a cold storage and shipping facility.
"All those things are still being worked out with the family," Bell said.
Bell would not disclose the details of the purchase, saying that's also pending. He said that the project will be done in phases and built as quickly as it can secure funding.
"We will move as aggressively as the resources provide, and we trust in the Lord to provide those resources," Bell said.
Clovis city officials said the property will need to be rezoned from rural agricultural to residential. A conditional use permit will also be required. Under the city's general plan, a church is allowed on the property.
The approval process begins once a preliminary site plan is submitted to the city, said Andy Haussler, community & economic development director.
"Once that is done we can gauge what needs to be done to make this happen," he said. "The city is ready to work with them when they are ready to move forward."