Good Fruit Grower

December 2013

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PHOTOS COURTESY OF BOB GIX, BLUE STAR GROWERS Growers come to festival bearing pears Tourists enjoy the taste of ripened pears. by Geraldine Warner hile many local people avoid the huge throngs of tourists who come to Leavenworth, Washington, for the annual Christmas Lighting Festival, Larry Peterson is not one of them. The festival is a highlight of the year for Peterson, who is a pear grower in nearby Cashmere, Washington. And the more people there are to mingle with, the better. The Bavarian-theme town of Leavenworth (population 2,000) holds the festival on three weekends in December, attracting around 30,000 visitors each weekend. People come, mainly from the Seattle area, by car, bus, or aboard the Snow Train, which runs each Saturday. Every year for the past decade or so, Peterson and a group of orchardists who are members of Blue Star Growers in Cashmere have headed up to Leavenworth for the first weekend's festivities with a pallet of preripened pears. Leavenworth is in the upper Wenatchee Valley, one of the Northwest's prime winter-pear growing regions. Growers from two other fruit growing and packing cooperatives, Blue Bird, Inc., and Peshastin Hi-Up, do pear sampling on the other two weekends.There, they hand out samples of sliced pears to tourists, along with free promotional items supplied by the Pear Bureau Northwest and flyers with information about how to ripen pears. They also sell pears at the wholesale price. Growers with Blue Star, for example, sell small bags of pears for $5 and an entire Eurobox containing 26.5 pounds for just $20. —Larry Peterson Peterson, who used to be a field horticulturist with Northwest Wholesale before being a fulltime orchardist, has heard some interesting stories while talking to people about pears. There was a bus driver who bought a whole box of pears. Why? "When I help the ladies get back on the bus, I give each of them a pear," the driver told him. "And when they get to Seattle, they give me a $5 tip. That's $200 I made on a $20 investment." Then there was the man who was talked into buying a box of pears, though he wondered what to do with them all. Peterson told him to make up a couple of Christmas baskets for his neighbors and buy a few bananas and apples to put in with the pears. The following year, the same man approached Peterson with a $100 bill in hand. "My neighbors want more than four or five pears this year," he told him. "They each want a box this year." And then there's the man he encouraged to buy a bottle of wine and some good cheese to eat with the pears while sitting with his wife by the fireplace in their hotel room. "That was the best thing I ever did," the man later reported. Bob Gix, field horticulturist for Blue Star Growers, said it's been fun to watch the grower-public interaction and people enjoying pears. Selling some of the pears, rather than giving them away, attaches a value to the fruit and adds to the consumers' excitement, he believes. However, their enjoyment is somewhat weather dependent. Lots of gloves and below-freezing weather tend to lower consumption, he's noticed. W "We're just the little guys, but we're not doing anything in the wintertime except going to meetings. We enjoy doing it." 26 DECEMBER 2013 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Wyatt Guthrie of Dryden, Washington, helps grower Ed Kenoyer slice pears for sampling. Left: Pear Bear delights revelers with ripe fruit during the Christmas Lighting weekend in Leavenworth. The Pear Bureau Northwest runs major domestic and international promotions for pears, and Peterson said he's not sure how much impact the growers are having in the big scheme of things. "We're just the little guys," he said. "But we're not doing anything in the wintertime except going to meetings. We enjoy doing it." As well as connecting the public with pears, it's also an opportunity for the growers to meet the people who eat their fruit. Often, the last time growers they see their pears are when they're trucked out of the orchard. Dennis Nicholson, a grower in Peshastin, goes to Leavenworth on the second week of the Christmas lighting festival with a group of growers from Blue Bird. They also take preripened pears, but generally a pallet of standard boxes that weigh 44 pounds. They also sell $5 bags. "We've had a few people who wanted boxes, but they're pretty difficult to tote around," he said. Most people have only bought green pears from the grocery store and are pleasantly surprised by the taste of ripe pears, Nicholson said. He hopes that next time they go shopping they'll be aware that pears are a good option, particularly if they're preripened. One common question is "Are they local?" which prompts the growers to talk about the Wenatchee Valley fruit industry. Some people ask if they can cook with the pears and want recipes. "Then others will get real specific," Nicholson said. "They want to know, 'How do you prune the tree, and how much water do you use, and how do you spray it?'" As well as mingling with the public, the growers enjoy their own company, Nicholson said. "It's a chance to spend some time with my fellow farmers, and talk, and sell our product." Jessica Robinson, director of marketing and media at the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is firmly behind the idea of promoting pears, which are an important product in the area. The city doesn't hold a pear harvest festival because of other festivities in the fall. But it does hold a Pear Month in April, to coincide with pear blossom, when local businesses can be found selling such delicacies as bratwurst with pear compote, pear cocktails, and chocolate-covered pears. This year, pear sampling will take place on December 7, 14, and 21 on Front Street, Leavenworth. •

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