It seemed like the fruit stand was at the right crossroad when Antoinette Rodin started the business 30 years ago.
She began selling peaches and other produce to the delight of customers at the Rodin Farm stand, at the southwest corner of Claribel and Oakdale roads. The Rodin fruit stand now has an uncertain future as Stanislaus County acquires right-of-way for the North County Corridor expressway.
The county wants five acres for a high-speed turn lane where the fruit stand sits and also is seeking right-of-way from the Rodins’ almond orchard along Claribel and Oakdale roads. The Rodin Farm stand and adjacent orchard is kitty-corner from Riverbank’s Crossroads Regional Shopping Center.
Rodin said the county hasn’t agreed to pay for moving the wells and piping, permits and other costs, so she can place the fruit stand further onto the orchard property at a safe distance from the expressway.
The Rodin family has been negotiating for a year with the county, which is responsible for acquiring easements for the North County Corridor.
“They are not communicating with us anymore,” said Rodin, who believes the county will soon start the eminent domain process to take the property.
The red-colored stand, selling fruits, vegetables, nuts and gifts year-round, sold Halloween pumpkins to families through October and soon will add a seasonal Christmas tree lot. It’s also the first stop on an almond blossom cruise that’s a tourist attraction in this county.
Rodin said she worked the 120 acres with her father, Tony, while growing up and began dreaming of the produce stand business when she was 17 years old. She raised four sons, now age 17 to 26, who are the fourth generation of Rodins working the farm.
The corner fruit stand business was grandfathered in decades ago. Rodin said she had a bad feeling when county representatives approached the family about needing property for the expressway project before Christmas last year.
“It was the worst I ever felt,” Rodin said. “I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I have people dependent on me.”
The cross-county expressway’s first phase will start at Claribel and Oakdale roads, will cut south on Oakdale for a quarter mile and then east across farmland to Claus Road. An original drawing implausibly put the fruit stand on an island, separated from the almond orchard by a new lane.
Rodin said for the business to continue, it needs to move to a safe spot on the orchard property, with an access road and customer parking.
Cost of relocation is steep
If the Rodins were to pull some almond trees and relocate the fruit stand further onto the parcel, the county would require a costly rebuild to meet the current codes. Relocation is estimated to cost $900,000, Rodin said.
California law says that businesses subject to eminent domain are entitled to compensation for relocation expenses.
Rodin would not disclose the amount offered by the county for the five acres. She said the offer is based on the agricultural land value, not commercial value or development potential.
County Supervisor Buck Condit, whose district includes Riverbank and Oakdale, said Friday the county is still working with the Rodin family. Condit said a recent meeting between county officials and the family was scheduled but was canceled because he couldn’t attend.
“We are still working with them and hope we can come to a positive solution,” Condit said. “There is definitely a spirit of cooperation we want to get to with the Rodin family. There is a process where we have to meet state standards and it is a negotiating process.”
Antoinette said her 75-year-old father stresses over the situation with the county. “We feel it’s worth more than what they want to give us,” said Tony Rodin, whose father bought the property in 1941.
Todd Aaronson, chief executive officer of Visit Modesto, said the Rodin Farm produce stand is a treasure in efforts to promote tourism for the Modesto area. It was the second-most visited stop on the Modesto Almond Blossom Cruise in 2022, after the Knights Ferry covered bridge, he said.
According to Aaronson, tracking showed almost 100,000 people visited the area for the audio tour that shows off the county’s agricultural bounty. The tourists came from the Bay Area, Sacramento, Fresno, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Portland and Los Angeles.
Also, a bus tour company has included Modesto in one of its routes because of access to Rodin Farm, Aaronson said.
“They needed a farm stand to relocate their tour program,” Aaronson said. “I don’t believe anyone loses by helping that business (Rodin Farm) remain where it is.”
Project requires land from 58 other parcels
Construction of the north county expressway is expected to begin in 2024. County Public Works did not respond to messages from The Modesto Bee.
The 18-mile North County Corridor is broadly described as an expressway to bypass east-west traffic around Modesto, Riverbank and Oakdale and connect the eastern portion of Stanislaus County to Highway 99. The three cities, the county, California Department of Transportation and federal government are project partners.
The county is faced with acquiring right of way from 59 parcels, including 13 likely to require full acquisition. The acquisition process has sparked controversy in taking custom homes along the route, disrupting businesses and putting a Claribel Road realignment through the Davis Avenue neighborhood of Riverbank. Property owners have mostly said they’re not getting fair compensation.
Rodin, who loves serving her loyal customers, said she will keep the business open during construction of the expressway as long as there is safe access for the public.
She said she wants to rebuild the farm stand on the orchard property, but if there’s no agreement with the county over costs, her worst-case option is moving the business elsewhere, possibly to another county.
“I want to stay on the family property where I have been for 30 years,” Rodin said. “But they have to compensate us. They are being so wishy-washy I don’t know what to do.”