Grower Spotlight: Interview with Allen Godwin
Chelan Fresh is proud to represent the growers of Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan counties in Washington State. Check in with our blog – To The Core - to find out what’s happening in the orchards that produce some of Washington’s Finest Mountain Grown Fruit.
This month we are talking with Allen Godwin of Godwin Organic Orchards in Tonasket, Washington.
Chelan Fresh: Hi Allen, I am anxious to hear about organic farming, but let’s start with information about your orchard. Where is it located and how many acres do you farm?
Allen Godwin: We have 3 entities in the family; Godwin Organic Orchards, Godwin Family Orchards, and Box Canyon Orchards which my brother recently bought, all in the northern Okanogan area. We work together as a family on about 400-450 acres in total.
CF: What kind of fruit is growing organic in the orchards?
AG: We grow organic apples, pears and cherries. Currently we are about 70% organic, the rest is still in transition. We will eventually be 100% organic.
CF: Why the decision to start transitioning to organic?
AG: We started transitioning our orchards to organic about 15 years ago when organic wasn’t popular yet. It was considered a crazy move back then! People go into growing organic for different reasons but we feel like it is the right thing to do. We are proud of our fruit and feel we are delivering a high-quality product.
CF: How long has your family been farming the land?
AG: My father hitch-hiked to Washington from Texas with $20 in his pocket. He worked in the saw mill at night and farmed during the day. Our childhood was like a lot of kids at that time, we only got one pair of shoes a size too big so we would grown into them. We worked hard, but we learned how to work together as a family. My mom and dad have since retired 3 years ago and my brother and I bought their organic orchard. I farm 150 acres that my wife and I are buying and my brother is farming about 150 acres as well. We leverage our work together to make it cost and labor efficient.
CF: What does the future hold for Godwin Organic Orchards?
KG: My brother and I both have young children that are interested in taking over the orchard in the future. The Godwin family business is set up in a way that our children will have the opportunity to buy into it, so it will stay in the family and eventually transition over to them.
The only way we feel we can compete in this ever-changing industry is to work together as a family. There are some great models in our industry of families who have done this type of thing. We hope to incorporate some of what we learned from those businesses and pass it down to our children. We also want to be progressive enough to make it possible for them to come back after they have earned their education.
CF: How do you plan to stay progressive in the industry?
KG: We are diversifying into organic SugarBee’s™, planting 2 x 10 on trellis, and trying to do all the things that will keep us competitive.
CF: Tell us about your organic Golden Delicious apples, I hear they have a story!
KG: Over the last 10 years we have identified what varieties the fresh market wants and doesn’t want, and we have developed an organic processor market for the Golden Delicious which goes to baby food. How wonderful to think about feeding babies organic fruit!
CF: Sounds inventive! Do you consider yourself a pioneer in organic farming?
KG: There are more and more farmers transitioning now. But we were one of the early adaptors for sure. Many would say we are the craziest because we are growing organic cherries!
CF: Is that because it is significantly more challenging to grow organic cherries or is it because demand for organic hasn’t caught up with cherries yet?
KG: It is really hard to grow cherries organically, we have to watch them all the time. Growing organic apples and pears has challenges but you can predict what is going to happen at least. Organic cherries are a completely different monster. If a person is not willing to lose their crop then they should not be doing it!
CF: Are you planning on transitioning out of organic cherries in the future?
KG: No, despite the challenges we are committed, and have another 10-acre block coming in next year. Organic is going to continue to be profitable if you can keep your yields up and continue to raise the right varieties.
CF: How do you determine what variety to grow?
KG: For us it starts at the eating experience, we went heavy on Honey Crisp because we like the way it eats. SugarBee™ is another apple that eats and stores really well. We feel it fits well with what we do. We also have Cosmic Crisps going into the ground next year.
CF: Will you be the first organic grower to grow SugarBee™?
KG: I believe we might be the first organic SugarBee™ grower in Chelan Fresh’s history! We feel very fortunate to be involved with the Chelan Fresh Cascade Organics brand and to be able to grow SugarBee™. We will actually pick our first organic SugarBee™ this year!
CF: That is exciting! Where do you think the organic market is going from here?
KG: The organic demand is good from a grower’s perspective. We believe that as millennials hit the work force they will be consuming more and more organic fruits, vegetables and dry goods. You see more organic out there than you did even 5 years ago, that is because of growing demand and awareness.
CF: Thanks so much for your time Allen, and good luck with harvest this year!