Good Fruit Grower

January 15

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24 JANUARY 15, 2015 Good Fruit Grower W ashington State may be number one in apple pro- duction, but California calls the shots when it comes to stone fruits. Last season, California expected to harvest more than 60 million packs of fresh peaches, plums, nectarines, and apricots, compared with a mere 2 million packs produced in Washington. It's been difficult for Washington stone fruit producers to compete in the marketplace, but Douglas Fruit Company of Pasco, Washington, has found its niche growing certified organic stone fruits. Douglas Fruit packs a million boxes of stone fruits—including half of Washington's fresh apricots—and is the largest stone fruit packer in the state. Cousins Jill and David Douglas have been working together for 14 years and this year were made co-presidents, dividing up responsibilities and running the company as a team. David's brother, John, runs the orchards, and his brother, Pete, works in sales. David said his family grows stone fruits for several reasons. First: It helps to be diversified. When the apple industry went through a period of low returns in the late 1990s and early 2000s, stone fruits did well. Second: Having multiple crops helps keep the workforce busy all summer between cherry and apple harvests. And, third: It's part of their legacy. Fourth generation David, Peter, John, and Jill are fourth-generation fruit growers. Their grandfather was Foster Douglas, whose father-in-law, D.K. Smalling, traveled from Ohio to settle in Washington's Yakima Valley in the 1890s and planted an apple and pear orchard. Foster took over the farm in the 1920s and expanded the operation over the next four decades to 150 acres, adding cherries, peaches, and nectarines. Foster's son John took over the orchards and, with his brother Bill (David's father), expanded into Washington's Columbia Basin. They took their stone fruits to Inland Fruit and Produce Company in Wapato, Washington, to be packed. Just before harvest in 1983, Inland Fruit informed them it didn't have the capacity to run their peaches. John and Bill hurriedly leased a build- ing at the Port of Pasco and packed the few hundred boxes of peaches themselves. The following year, they built their own packing house on the site of their current facility at Taylor Flats Road. John's eldest daughter, Holly, who had recently earned a master's degree in business administration from Seattle Pacific University in Washington and was selling cars, came back to the family business as sales manager. His daughter Jill, who is three years younger, graduated from Western Washington University with a degree in sociology and criminology and went to work at a school for young male offenders in Chehalis, Washington. She was just two weeks away from beginning a master's program in psychology when her uncle Bill called and offered her the job of general manager of Douglas Fruit. Even though the sisters had worked for the company during the summers, they met with some skepticism from other growers at first. Ironically, that helped them succeed. "It was challenging because you almost had to prove yourself more, being a woman in this industry and working with growers who are pri- marily men," said Jill, who was 24 when she became general manager in 1989. "We worked really hard. There was no way we were going to not succeed. That drive was there. We did not want to fail." Douglas FINDS ITS NICHE Fruit The family business specializes in organic stone fruits. by Geraldine Warner PHOTOS BY GERALDINE WARNER Big John: The older John Douglas and his brother Bill began packing their own soft fruits 30 years ago. Little John: The younger John Douglas, who is in charge of Douglas Fruit Company's orchards, finds that stone fruit orchards in Washington have an average lifespan of only 10 to 12 years. Jill and David Douglas in their Pasco, Washington, sorting and packing facility. Douglas "We worked really hard. We did not want to fail." —Jill Douglas

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