Chelan Fresh is a grower-owned sales agent that represent approximately 30 organic family farms in North Central Washington. Their growers produce more than 20 varieties of organic fruit from the growers of Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan counties.
Two of their growers recently shared how they are innovating and responding to the challenge of producing organic fresh fruit. Orlin Knutson, who grew up in Wisconsin on a dairy farm that didn’t use chemical or antibiotics, began growing fruit in 1975 and was the 67th farm to be certified organic in the state of Washington.
Orlin Knutson, Columbia Valley Fruit
Knutson said he is constantly innovating to stay ahead of new trends. “You have to upgrade your orchard with new varieties, growing systems and densities. We have always tried to pay attention to emerging trends in consumer preferences and upgrade our varieties accordingly. When we do update our blocks, we use the most current trellis systems available,” he said.
Brothers Sam Godwin and Allen Godwin are second-generation orchardists who grew up on their 50-acre family farm south of Tonasket, Washington. The brother learned to share the work ethic that drove their parents, Calvin and Jean Godwin, north from Texas in 1966 with $20 to their name and big American dreams of becoming orchardists.
The Godwin Brothers took that dream and have been producing WSDA Certified Organic Fruit for over 15 years. For over 15 years, the brothers and their families have combined their knowledge and skill set to, farm over 400 combined acres of fruit, with 70 percent of it certified organic.
Recently the family became pioneers of the Organic SugarBee™ apple variety.
“We were blessed to be involved with one of the first plantings of SugarBee at Chelan Fruit. We were the lucky winners of a tree lottery that allowed us to plant SugarBee at our home ranch in 2015. We instantly fell in love with the Sugar Bee and have been planting and grafting it every year since. It is the only apple that we have eaten that tastes better than a Honeycrisp, which has become the gold standard in our industry for taste,” Allen Godwin said.
Allen Godwin, Godwin Organic Orchards
All three growers indicate climate and labor continue to challenge growers, and Knutson said securing labor has been a particularly tough. “It’s been difficult finding people who are willing and able to do the strenuous field work. The cost of labor has increased tremendously in the last few years and now comprise 75 percent of our operating budget. Without available labor supply, producing tree fruit will become an impossibility.”
Allen Godwin agrees. “Labor is definitely one of our largest challenges because organic farming is more labor intensive. The H2A program has improved the availability of labor, but the rising cost has been a challenge financially,” he said.
At the end of the day, despite the challenges, all are happy to be organic orchardists.
“Providing a wholesome, nourishing product to the consumer that is grown in an ecologically responsible and sustainable manner is the most satisfying part of producing organic fruit,” Knutson said.
And the Godwin brothers agree, “We love producing organic fruit for the world to enjoy. We are grateful for all of the consumers that have supported us over the years by buying high quality organic fruit from our family. They are the reason we get up in the morning - making the world a healthier place with clean food options – that matters to our family.”