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Grower Spotlight
Chelan Fresh is proud to represent the growers of Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan counties in Washington State. Meet one of the growers who make our beloved SugarBee® apple available for you to enjoy.
Meet the Growers

The SugarBee® apple was created on a sunny spring day when an industrious bee carried pollen from an unknown variety and landed on a Honeycrisp tree and the SugarBee® apple was born. Grower Chuck Nystrom noticed the branch in his orchard as it produced a beautiful bi-colored apple that was crisp, sweet and juicy. The growers at Chelan Fresh agreed with Mr. Nystom and made the decision to grow the SugarBee® apple.

Many of our SugarBee® growers are part of 3rd and 4th generation families who are passionate about growing high quality apples, pears and cherries. They are committed to best agriculture and business practices so that their families can continue to farm for future generations.

Kaitlyn Thornton
Many of the orchards in Chelan Valley are a family affair, with women playing a critical role in running smooth operations and growing the business. In our blog series “Women in Agriculture” we sit down with them to discuss their roles and thoughts on the industry. This month we caught up with Kaitlyn Thornton, who is a budding entrepreneur as well as a future farmer. Kaitlyn and her family farm apples and pears in the Tonasket area. They are also SugarBee® growers for Chelan Fruit.

CF: Hi there, Kaitlyn; thank you for giving us a few minutes of your time. Why don’t you start by telling us a little about your family’s orchard?
KT: Of course! Our orchard is 30 minutes from the Canadian border in Tonasket. My great grandfather, Roy, moved here from Cashmere and farmed about 100 acres in the valley. The farm eventually went by the wayside until my father discovered he had a passion for growing and decided to start buying back land that was in the family. My parents started out with 27 acres then, now have 440 operational acres.

I feel privileged to be born on the ranch that my parents built, and I mean literally born on the ranch! I have always loved being involved with the land and the operations as a child and my love of the land has only grown as I get older. I have watched my family deal with all of the hardships of farming: hail, wind damage, etc. But, it has only secured my passion for this ranch because I want it to succeed and see the legacy continue.

CF: That’s a great story! Were you interested in farm life as a child?
KT: Yes! I grew up helping out whenever I could; picked rocks out of the garden, washed tractors and I even learned how to thin apple trees. I also changed water a lot; my summer nights were spent getting soaked with sprinklers!

CF: I saw a sneak peek of the video that Chelan Fresh produced about you and your family. Tell us more about your fruit-selling business.
KT: My sophomore year in high school my father challenged me to sell 20 boxes of our apricots, which usually just fell to the ground every year. So, I put an ad in the Facebook Marketplace and ended up selling 44 boxes! After that I said to myself, “I can make this a thing!” So I started packing and delivering more fruit boxes. I started with apricots, then Bartlett pears and then eventually started selling apples too.

The first year I sold 400 boxes of fruit, then in my junior year I sold over 500 boxes. This year I sold about 1000 boxes.

CF: That is a serious business endeavor! How did you manage a business while going to school full time?
KT: It was fun actually. I would wake up before school and pack boxes in the dark with my truck’s headlights on, then deliver the boxes on my lunch break during school. I remember going back to school with a wad of cash in my pocket and feeling pretty good about it! My business is named Kait’s Crates, and I am now known as the “Apple Queen” in my area.

CF: That must keep you pretty busy; do you have time for other interests or hobbies?
KT: I am really interested in engines so last summer I started hanging around a diesel shop with big semi-trucks used for transportation. I learned a lot about mechanics but I also got to spend time with the truckers who hauled the fruit, so it was fascinating to hear about that side of the business as well.

I have also had the opportunity to travel with Chelan Fresh on SugarBee® promotional trips because we are SugarBee® growers. My father and I went to Maryland and Pennsylvania when I was 16 years old. I loved interacting with the consumers, as well as some of the grocery executives.

CF: What a great opportunity. Did that give you a different perspective of the industry?
KT: Definitely. I think consumers are more removed from agriculture than ever. I felt like I was helping people make the connection from fruit to farmer. I want people to know that real fruit comes from real farmers. Now, those people can think of me and my dad when they bite into an apple!

CF: Now that you have seen so many different avenues of the industry do you have an idea of where you want to go from here?
KT: Yes, I got accepted into WSU next year.  After I graduate college I hope to work for Chelan Fresh as a marketing or sales person and eventually take over our farm operations.

CF: Will you continue to sell your crates?
KT: Yes, but I will be away at college so I will not be able to deliver anymore. I hope to make a fruit stand so I can pack some fruit and sell it on weekends when I am home.

CF: It has been wonderful to hear a fresh take on the the fruit industry from a future industry leader! Is there anything else you would like to say before we close?
KT: Yes, programs like the FFA have helped me a lot, I would like people to continue to support these programs. And I also would like people to know that fruit is not made by a machine and every purchase they make affects a farmer and their families.

One of our growers is Harold Schell, who manages variety development to determine what new varieties will be friendly to grow, harvest, pack, and also have consumer appeal. Harold has been lovingly nick-named the “Manny”of SugarBee® apples, as he applies over 40 years of experience to nurture new varieties such as the  SugarBee®.

Jeff LaPorte and his family are proud growers of SugarBee® and honeycrisp apples on their acreage. Jeff also works to advise many of our growers on best growing practices to produce high quality Chelan Fresh fruit.

Mark Stennes is a 4th generation grower and his family has farming roots that date back to the early 1900’s. The Stennes family is committed to create opportunities for future family members to become part of the family operation by growing a variety of apples, cherries and pears using both conventional and organic practices.

Tom Riggan was born into an agriculture family and followed his knowledge of apples, pears & cherries to working in sales and management. Tom rarely misses an opportunity to get out in the orchard and stay connected with the crops. He spends his remaining free time attending kids’ activities and long distance bike riding.

Jim Colbert brings 35 years of experience in Horticulture and pest management to his current position as Organic Program & Packaging manager at Chelan Fruit. His 3rd generation grower roots keep him passionate about spending time in his family orchard and when he can break away, he enjoys snow and waterskiing.

Dave Robison
We caught up with Dave to find out what he’s been up to and what he loves about his work.
Sugarbee Lake Chelan Apples

Chelan Fresh is proud to represent the growers of Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan counties in Washington State. Check in regularly to hear about what’s happening out in the orchards that produce some of Washington’s Finest Mountain Grown SugarBee® apples.

Chelan Fresh (CF): Hi Dave, could you please tell us a little bit about you and your orchard?
Dave Robison (DR): Sure, I’d be happy to. I am a third generation farmer and have been farming since 1982. Our home place is at 25 mile creek on Lake Chelan, but we also farm north of Chelan on Howard Flats. We have 120 acres in total. 

CF: What varieties of fruit do you grow?
DR: We grow pears: Bartlett’s, D’Anjou, Bosc, as well apples: Gala, Honeycrisp, Envy, Jazz, and SugarBee®. We also grow cherries.

CF: What do you love about your work? What challenges do you face
DR: We as small farmers wear all the hats. I know some guys love the shop and mechanics, while others enjoy growing trees. Personally, I like interacting with people. For me, the most challenging part of the business is keeping up with the changing agriculture trends and regulations.

CF: What is your favorite fruit?
DR: It’s a close call, but my favorite has got to be the new SugarBee® apple.

CF: Can you share a recipe with us?
DR: No need for a recipe. The best way to eat a SugarBee® is right off the tree!