I began as a first-generation orchardist in 1993 when Marie and I purchased this property and home on Green Bluff. Some of the land had been farmed and was planted in Red and Golden Delicious, Jonathon and Rome Beauty apple trees and what I thought at the time were too many Italian prune trees. A wider array of apple varieties with more diverse ripening dates and other types of fruit with a range of ripening times throughout the summer seemed like a better business model. After years of orchard renewal, the mixture of apples is up to 13 varieties. Pears and apricots are in the mix and in recent years cherries have been added. The peach crop is thriving, and I continue to add more peach trees every year.
The property was farmed conventionally for several years. We both had day jobs in those days as physical therapists although Marie switched to teaching at SFCC's PT Assistant program starting in 1995. I retired in 2016 and Marie in 2021.
The big drivers in leading me to consider organic cultural practices were our kids. They loved climbing the trees and playing out in the orchard. Unfortunately, some of the sprays had a 2-week reentry period after application, so it seemed best to begin looking for other options to keep it safe for the kids. We didn't have a computer in those days but with some research I started locating alternative materials to help control pests and diseases.
There were some very lean harvests in those first few years of experimenting with organic methods. Luckily, I still had a day job to pay the bills! Eventually what was being done to raise the crop of fruit each year aligned almost entirely with WSDA's Organic Program. I finally applied and received the Organic Certification in 2007.
Today Cole's Orchard on Greenbluff remains the only Certified Organic tree fruit farm in Spokane county. Occasionally you'll find an assortment of vegetables here as well. Some years I put more effort into vegetables, but one that you can count on is a tomato crop (actually it's a fruit too). They are grown in high tunnels and although there is usually lots of slicers and great tasting eating tomatoes, I specialize in paste tomatoes. These make great, rich sauces, having less seeds and juice in them.
Nowadays, with the kids all grown up and away from home, staying organic is still the only option I consider.
There remain many challenges in producing a crop of fruit and vegetables each year, but I seem able to meet those tests. And the interest and popularity of organic produce continues to grow each year. I feel fortunate to have wonderful support from the local community and the greater Inland Northwest.
I always enjoy seeing many of the same customers coming back year after year and really look forward to meeting new ones interested in organic produce.
Hope to see you up here this year!
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