Chelsea Putnam | #025 06/01/2020

Although she's an artist and a teacher, Chelsea Putnam only really found herself when she came back to her family's farm. This is her story of renewal and passion for stewarding the land and producing food.

Transcript

Chelsea Putnam:
I had nothing. I had our suitcases and a few things, but no job, no idea what I’m doing. And so I did what I knew and that was to go work in the orchards and to help establish a new farm.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
Finding rebirth and renewal on the farm. It’s something that a lot of people have found in their personal stories of farming. And this week we hear from an artist and a teacher who is also a farmer and now started a farmer’s market. She’s got so much to share in such a cool story. Chelsea Putnam is her name and she has kind of a traditional Washington farming background in tree fruit, but then they also grow lavender and have tourism and lodging on their farm. It’s a really diverse perspective that she brings and a cool story where she never expected to be a farmer. And here she is and she loves it. We’ve got a lot to get to. I’m Dillon Honcoop. This is the Real Food Real People podcast. And let’s jump right in.

Dillon Honcoop:
Talk about what it is you guys do here. What is this Trinity gardens thing and what do you guys do?

Chelsea Putnam:
There’s a lot of components to it. We started five years ago and with the idea of just planting some lavender plants, my dad’s an orchardist and my mom’s a retired nurse. And she got bored, as you-

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that how she would characterize it?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah. She got bored being retired and they drove by this property and it was too good of a deal to pass up, but nothing was on here except for the mobile home and a shop. And so they tossed some ideas around about what to plant, if to plant anything. And we always went to Sequim to visit my grandparents, where lavender capital of the world and we loved it. We always loved it. And so my mom and dad decided lavender, let’s plant some lavender on this property. And so year by year we planted a couple 1,000 plants each year and every year we were like, “How can we generate more revenue from this and not just have some random lavender plants in the ground? Let’s get people out here. Maybe we can make it a venue. Maybe we can hold some events like Sequim farms do.”

Chelsea Putnam:
And so it’s just evolved into this extensive venue where we rent out accommodations on Airbnb. We have a shop on site where we sell all of our handcrafted lavender products. We distill, we steam distill, not alcohol, just lavender essential oil. We will custom distill for other farmers too because the distillation setup is quite expensive.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the difference between steam distillation and using alcohol to extract the essential oil?

Chelsea Putnam:
Well, that’s a great question. The steam distillation seems to be from what we’ve talked to other farmers about the way to distill the lavender to get the essential oil. Even though it is an expensive setup, it’s one of the cheaper ways to extract the essential oil or 100% oil from the lavender. And I really don’t know much about any other distillation techniques, so I can’t really speak on it too much.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, yeah. That was going to be my question, like what do you all do with lavender? And technically we’re cheating a little bit because this is Real Food Real People, but you can’t really eat lavender.

Chelsea Putnam:
You can.

Dillon Honcoop:
You can?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yes, you can.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay. I’m learning something new already.

Chelsea Putnam:
Amongst the other things that we do on the farm, there are many uses of the lavender itself. We have five different varieties out here on the farm and they are all the same therapeutic qualities, but they have different scent profiles and flavor profiles. Some are really good for using for culinary purposes, whereas some are better for just drying or using as a fresh bouquet or distilling to use as essential oil and products. On the farm we have two really good varieties. And what you would do to use lavender for food is you could dry the buds or use them fresh and a lot of people will use it as a tea, help them sleep at night. You could-

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s it taste like?

Chelsea Putnam:
It depends on the variety.

Dillon Honcoop:
I don’t know if I’ve ever tasted lavender.

Chelsea Putnam:
We’ll have to do like a taste test for dry buds.

Dillon Honcoop:
I guess, yeah.

Chelsea Putnam:
The ones that are really good for culinary purposes, they are sweeter. Some of them have a vanilla note to them. And so of course if you use it in moderation, you can definitely overdo it. If you overdo it, it’s got that soapy, tastes like you’re eating lavender soap or something. That also comes out in the variety that you choose to use for culinary purposes. But have you ever had a dessert with lavender in it or lavender ice-cream or?

Dillon Honcoop:
I don’t know if I have.

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh my gosh.

Dillon Honcoop:
Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.

Chelsea Putnam:
Maybe, I don’t know.

Dillon Honcoop:
Maybe I’m just not that sophisticated.

Chelsea Putnam:
That could be it. You did grow up on a farm.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Ouch.

Chelsea Putnam:
So did I.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, explain that. Where did you grow up?

Chelsea Putnam:
I grew up in East Wenatchee and we would spend our summers driving out here, working on our apple and cherry orchards where my dad, that’s his primary.

Dillon Honcoop:
Out here being the George area?

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh yeah, the George area. Yeah. And we still have a couple of those farms and we still work on them. Yeah, so primarily grew up working in tree fruit.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay. What were your jobs as a kid?

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh my gosh, so many. At 13, actually my dad started teaching me to do payroll, which was cool. I got to learn a lot of the backside of it, the number side. But then labor wise we would do a lot of swamping, which means our pickers will pick cherries in their lugs, put the lugs down and move on to the next tree. And then we would come through and pick up all those lugs and put them on the blue line, which takes all the bins and the lugs and goes and loads them up into the truck.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s nice, easy leisurely work. Yeah?

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh, sure, sure, sure. Yeah. I think I still have lower back pain from when I was 13.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, wow.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. But as we got older, we got more responsibilities and now instead of breaking our backs, picking up lugs, so my brother will probably drive the blue line or get to operate the equipment and then I’ll go through in quality control and manage what the pickers are picking. And things like that.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you still do all the tree fruit too?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
And the lavender farm?

Chelsea Putnam:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s a lot.

Chelsea Putnam:
I know. And in my spare time do pottery and teach.

Dillon Honcoop:
We’re going to get into that.

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
We’re going to hear all about it. But okay, so what all kinds of tree fruits do you guys do now?

Chelsea Putnam:
So we just do apples and cherries now. At one point we did pears as well. However, my dad does not like how tedious pears can be. They’re delicate, so we just stick to cherries and apples.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the name of that farm?

Chelsea Putnam:
We operate under, we call Putnam Family Farms because we have three farms. We have Trinity Gardens Lavender Farm, obviously the lavender. And then we have French Camp, which was the original orchard. And then we have Liberty Ridge, which was the second ridge to come into the family.

Dillon Honcoop:
How many acres total?

Chelsea Putnam:
We’re considered a micro-farm with just under 200 acres of cherries and apples. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Which to a lot of people they think of micro-farm, they’re like a half acre. Right?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
A micro-farm just under 200 acres.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. And that’s the tree fruit industry. It’s just growing so rapidly, especially out in the basin. We have farms that are just hundreds of acres. You drive one straight road and it’s just all red delicious apples or all golden delicious or whatever they might be.

Dillon Honcoop:
How do you guys bring in the harvest? You have to bring a lot of workers in to get that done?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. Well, the beauty in being a smaller farm and established here, we haven’t really needed to take advantage of the Federal H-2A housing employees, recruiting them from out of the country. We have a lot of families that come back year after year after year. In fact, I’ve known some of these families since I was a child. We have just a rapport. It helps to have a great field manager, who’s been with my dad since they both started farming, so 30 years or so. We have a lot of local workers from Quincy, Georgia area, Royal City, Moses Lake.

Dillon Honcoop:
What about on the lavender farm? How much labor does that take? How big is the actual lavender part?

Chelsea Putnam:
We have just over three acres planted in lavender and we don’t hire anybody. It’s just us. My brother and I and my dad still does. We’ll hand harvest the lavender when it’s time to cut for distillation, usually around August, September timeframe. And we just come out here before the sun comes up because the bees wake up at a certain temperature and they swarm the place. And so we try to get up before them.

Dillon Honcoop:
I know all about that from raspberry farm youth and being a little bit allergic to honeybees.

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh, no. Really?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. It doesn’t go very well.

Chelsea Putnam:
No, I think I’ve only been stung once out here.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, you’re lucky.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah, I just don’t mess with them. I just let them work.

Dillon Honcoop:
The whole thing is you need to stay calm because they don’t like it when you’re worked up, but I can’t stay calm around them. So frustrating. My dad would always say, “Oh, you’ll be fine.” I’m like, “Dad, I don’t know. I don’t want to go out to the field. If I get stung I’ll be feeling sick for a few days.” “You’ll be fine.”

Chelsea Putnam:
I was just going to ask, how allergic are you? Do you need an EpiPen or anything?

Dillon Honcoop:
They made me carry one for a while. I never had anaphylactic shock reaction, but I would swell like crazy.

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh, well it’s a good thing you didn’t come out here in June and July when everything was in bloom.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. But I am used to being around them still, trying to maintain my chill.

Chelsea Putnam:
Maintain your chill. That’s funny.

Dillon Honcoop:
Going back to growing up, East Wenatchee, working in fruit. Then what was your plan? Did you want to be a farmer?

Chelsea Putnam:
No, no, no. I was like so far, my ideas of having a career path was so far from farming. And I don’t know why. It wasn’t my passion. It’s not like I hated it. I love coming out here in the summers and being a part of the family business. I wanted to be an art teacher. I went off to college, got my art degree.

Dillon Honcoop:
Where’d you go to college?

Chelsea Putnam:
Pacific Lutheran University. Little liberal arts school in Parkland. Technically Tacoma is the address. But yeah. My parents weren’t too thrilled when I was like, “I’m going to major in art.” Like, “What are you going to do with your life?”

Dillon Honcoop:
So what did you do then? You got your degree.

Chelsea Putnam:
I did, I did. Actually, right when I was applying for a MFA programs because really my goal was and still is to be a college professor, teach fine arts at a university. I was applying for master’s programs and I got pregnant with my son. And so I made the choice to put that path on hold, the path to MFA. And I decided to get married and go be a mom to a sweet little boy and live the military wife life. We went to Anchorage and then we lived in North Carolina. From North Carolina we actually separated, my ex-husband and I moved home because it was my only support system. Home is here in George where my parents had just bought a lavender farm or a plot of land to be a lavender farm and the orchards. And so I had nothing.

Chelsea Putnam:
I had our suitcases and a few things, but no job, no idea what I’m doing. And so I did what I knew and that was to go work in the orchards and to help establish a new farm. Through this interesting … It was very therapeutic, I think the lavender farm especially. I have a real emotional attachment to the lavender farm because it became this planting of life and growth and newness, right in a time where I needed all that redirection and new growth. And so as we planted the lavender and it evolved, I’ve seen over the last five years, it’s been a symbol of how I’ve established here and I never thought I would, in agriculture and many other aspects of my life.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was that like going through all of that? Were you scared?

Chelsea Putnam:
No, I don’t think I ever remember being fearful of the massive amount of change, but it’s because I had the support of my parents. They’ve been my absolute rock and foundation to even the disappointing decision to major in art. They were like, “Okay, well if that’s really what you want.” That’s the approach they’ve always taken. They’re just open armed people and they greet everybody with love and support. And of course they’re going to do that for their daughter and grandchild. They’re like, “We don’t actually care about you. We just want Michael in our lives.” I never really felt intimidated. I still wanted to teach art, hence the reason why we’re sitting in the studio because before I got the job at the school district, I built this with my dad and decided to start teaching art to small groups as a small business. And it brought more people out to the lavender farm where we could entice them and educate them on all things lavender.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why do you do art and ceramics? Is that kind of your big thing?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah, clay is my big thing for sure. Yeah. I’ll do all the other art forms and I teach all the other art forms. But clay, I don’t know, there’s something full circle about clay. You can make something sculptural and abstract and create something wonderful from your imagination and try to sell it for lots of money, if someone’s interested. My favorite thing to do is throwing on the wheel and making functional pottery because that’s the full circle piece, I think where you’re taking something from the ground, from the earth and creating it into a form that’s usable and you can eat out of, you can drink out of, you can serve people and sit around a table and enjoy as just what it is. Yeah. The cat.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that the cat? Where is the cat?

Chelsea Putnam:
Outside.

Dillon Honcoop:
I hear a cat and the cat wanted to join the podcast. That’s awesome.

Chelsea Putnam:
I know, I got all distracted too. I was like, “Wait, sound like a baby crying.”

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s funny.

Chelsea Putnam:
We have two boy cats and they’re absolutely wild out there. They’re the farm cats. They get all the gophers and their rats and my mom likes to feed them. She said, “Oh, they can’t starve.” I’m like, “Well, if you feed them, then they’re not going to get the gophers. You have to starve them a little bit.”

Dillon Honcoop:
What a cruel person.

Chelsea Putnam:
They’re fine.

Dillon Honcoop:
They’re going to be hungry.

Chelsea Putnam:
Did you see them? They’re kind of fat.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. I think they’re doing all right.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah, they’re fine.

Dillon Honcoop:
You love the art?

Chelsea Putnam:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dillon Honcoop:
And you teach now. Talk about what that experience has been like, becoming a teacher.

Chelsea Putnam:
Well, it’s been one of those experiences where you really just don’t know until you’re in it. There’s no amount of education or training that can prepare you to be in front of 30 kids six times a day that are in middle school, seventh and eighth grade. I get to teach anywhere from 11 to 13-year-old kids. I didn’t think that I would just absolutely adore this age range because like I said, my goal was to go onto college and it still is. Now, I think I envision myself being in this age range to gain experience for a good 10 years or so, at least. Unless, I don’t know. It’s kind of funny. We make all these plans for our lives and then like, I don’t know the universe or God or whatever you believe in, likes to throw monkey wrenches in just for-

Dillon Honcoop:
And that’s the story of COVID too, right?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yes. And so this is my first year teaching and it’s like all this like amped up, amped up, doing all this stuff and working until exhaustion actually ruined a relationship I was in. Maybe I let it, but [inaudible 00:18:38]. I just really devoted all my passion and time into being good at this job and I could, because all the farms are seasonal. It works out perfectly. Go teach in the winter time, come out here in the spring and fall or excuse me, spring in summer. And it was just like a perfect little, the missing puzzle piece. Anyways, I just poured everything of myself into this and then it was like, “Oh, this pandemic is happening. Schools are closed for six weeks.”

Chelsea Putnam:
And I was like, “Oh, that’s sad, but I’ll see you in six weeks, it’ll be a good break.” And then without even getting to say bye or anything to all these kids, they’re just like, “Yeah, actually we’re not going back to school.” And it has been interesting, absolutely interesting and emotional and all the words.

Dillon Honcoop:
Emotional how?

Chelsea Putnam:
Well, it wasn’t at first. I actually didn’t realize the emotional impact it actually had on me until recently. Emotional in a lot of ways. I see the kids and how they grow up in our area. We’re a low income perverse area and we have about, I think it’s about 85 to 87% of our students are under the poverty line. And so when they started talking about this distance learning thing and having kids do online learning, like we have kids that live in houses with 10, 15 people and they’re not even housed well. They’re single wide mobile homes. They don’t have internet or a phone that they can Zoom meeting their teacher. Are you kidding me?

Chelsea Putnam:
It was just so privileged to just be like, “Oh, they can just distance-learn from their laptops.” And so we had this big push on getting kids free meals. We have kids they don’t eat unless they’re at school. They don’t get food. And which like just makes me so … Oh, I could just go into it. It was really emotional trying to reach these kids and not only checking on their welfare and their living situations and, “Are you getting food? Are you getting your basic fundamental needs to survive because we’re not going to get to see you for months and months and months?” But now we’re trying to get them laptops, hotspots, things like that to get them on board with this technology and learning and getting them information. And then it’s just been confusing for everybody because there’s so many questions and it feels like there’s never an actual solid answer. And as soon as there’s an answer, something else changes. And it’s a domino effect of more questions and no answers.

Dillon Honcoop:
Have you heard anything about next year?

Chelsea Putnam:
There’s a lot of speculation and talk about not going back to school at the beginning of the year. Yeah. I really try to not invest a lot of my time and energy into planning for that because just like I said, everything just keeps changing. Everything just keeps changing.

Dillon Honcoop:
What has COVID meant for you guys here on the farm?

Chelsea Putnam:
It has impacted us a lot more than I thought it would, negatively as far as generating revenue. We’re eight miles from the Gorge Amphitheater. That’s where a lot of our people come that rent the Airbnbs here on the lavender farm, which then directly correlates to customers in our shop. People learning about it, buying our products, whatever. The cancellation of concerts has decreased.

Dillon Honcoop:
I would have never thought of that.

Chelsea Putnam:
Right. Oh my gosh. Also, we can mark up the prices a lot because there’s nowhere to stay around here. There’s nowhere. They are building a hotel in George. Did you see that?

Dillon Honcoop:
I did.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. And a Five Guys Burger.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, nice.

Chelsea Putnam:
I know.

Dillon Honcoop:
I did not see that.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
In George Washington.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. Imagine that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Very cool.

Chelsea Putnam:
We’ve noticed a decline in our normal clientele, our normal foot traffic, but we’ve gotten a lot of longer stays out here, which is nice. People working in the area for a month or two weeks at a time. But we haven’t gotten a lot of people just coming and visiting us, which is so frustrating because we paid a crap ton of money to get signs on the freeway and we waited an entire year to get them up and they got up this season right before we opened. And then it was like, “Oh great. That was kind of for nothing because no one wants to break the rules.”

Chelsea Putnam:
And we have some people coming by. As far as the orchards though, that’s the one that surprised me that it’s already impacting us because sales have gone down drastically of produce and food everywhere. You hear about all these potatoes and onions getting dumped because all the restaurants are in business. There’s a huge portion of the market that is no longer buying produce and we’re seeing it in our apple prices because it’s our last year’s crop being bought now. And it’s been very disappointing.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s too bad.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah, it is. It is. Not to mention, it’s a really light crop for cherries this year, all around the basin. And so couple that with just mother nature and then the economy.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you think is going to happen?

Chelsea Putnam:
I think that my dad’s going to do a lot of praying. Yeah. A lot of praying because at this point it just takes one bad storm and the small crop gets demolished and then bad season.

Dillon Honcoop:
How big are cherries versus apples for you guys?

Chelsea Putnam:
How big are they?

Dillon Honcoop:
As far as like how much-

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh, like the size? As like smaller?

Dillon Honcoop:
No, like as a percentage of your operation.

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh, I see, I see. We’re converting slowly to more cherries than apples. But right now is pretty close to equal and we have a range of varieties within each fruit. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s crazy. We don’t know what’s going to happen next. Right?

Chelsea Putnam:
I know and that’s just kind of farming in its nature though because we’re always dealing with the unknown. Looking at the 10-Day Weather Forecast, preparing for a sudden frost or some crazy. Out here in the basin, the weather patterns are very interesting and we’ll get hail. We get in a bad spring and rain, not a whole lot, but it’ll happen in the spring. We don’t have a lot of rainfall, but it just takes one of those bad storms and it’s all gone. Where our farms are, we see this really interesting weather pattern where it will actually see storms just go around us. It’s very frightening looking at these black thunderclouds and we’re like, “Oh no, is it going to go over us?” There’s something about just the geography and the wind and then it has to do with the Gorge and then the mountains. It just skates around us.

Dillon Honcoop:
Weird.

Chelsea Putnam:
We watch it go around and then go over to [Afrada 00:26:38], or Moses like. We’re like, “Well, it sucks to be them.”

Dillon Honcoop:
But what if you want those storm? What if you need the irrigation?

Chelsea Putnam:
I don’t think that’s ever an issue. No, we never want a storm.

Dillon Honcoop:
Nice.

Chelsea Putnam:
Unless for some reason we ran out of water, but I don’t think that’ll happen.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. How do you guys irrigate your crops?

Chelsea Putnam:
That would be a really good question for my dad, because he has this really cool nerdy interest in the way this … We have like a federal water project that happened out here, but we get our water from canals. Most people think, “Oh, they live right next to the Columbia River. They probably just get their water from the Columbia River.” No, we get it from lakes farther away from here that they have situated to irrigate the basin through canals, a series of canal systems.

Dillon Honcoop:
You have to like do the tubes and stuff to get the water out of the canals or like how-

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. In fact, we have it here. I could show you a very small scale version of that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Nice.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. We do like floating the canals in the summer though. That’s fun.

Dillon Honcoop:
Your own lazy river?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
What if you go too far though and-

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh, yeah, you don’t want to go under the road. There’s spots where they stop. Yeah. You have to just get out of it at some point.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s interesting that you brought up the Gorge in George. Everybody knows the Gorge. Right?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I would have never thought that would have that kind of impact on your farm. What’s that like having that huge concert space in this little tiny community?

Chelsea Putnam:
I’ll speak personally first. It’s freaking awesome. If you know the right people, you can get in with the right crowd and cheaper tickets or maybe the tickets all didn’t itself. Here’s a couple.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s nice.

Chelsea Putnam:
It is amazingly fun. We all look forward to it. We get groups of friends together, we go meet down there. We’ll camp down there even though we all live like 15 minutes away. And it is such a blast. It’s a great time. Then economically it helps our community big time. Who drives to Quincy? I mean, not semis basically. It’s not like we have a main freeway coming through here. I-90 just misses it by 15 miles. We have a really small town with some cool things to do, but not a lot of people coming through to experience them. In the summertime, when the Gorge is up and running on the weekends, we have people coming down and staying at Crescent Bar and staying in those like little river side towns, like Sunland.

Chelsea Putnam:
They’re not towns they’re like basically towns. Sunland and coming to Cave B and coming out here to do stuff like, “Oh, let’s check out this random lavender farm and cruise into Quincy and get something to eat.” So, we have this really cool rotation of more touristy people, but feeding our economy in a different way than we get the other months of the year.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Who’s the best show at the Gorge?

Chelsea Putnam:
There’s rotation, but watershed’s always fun as a whole, just as a whole experience. Even if it’s not my favorite person playing, it’s the atmosphere. That’s pretty cool. The best show I’ve seen there was … Well, who am I thinking of? Have you ever heard of Shovels & Rope?

Dillon Honcoop:
No, I haven’t.

Chelsea Putnam:
They’re newer-ish. They played. Kings of Leon was really good. Let’s see. There’s some that I only remember part of.

Dillon Honcoop:
I won’t ask.

Chelsea Putnam:
I went home early. I have not honestly seen a bad show there.

Dillon Honcoop:
Dave Matthews is famous for playing. Does he do in there every year still?

Chelsea Putnam:
Every year. There was one year he didn’t, but he came back from retirement or whatever.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is it like his favorite place to do a show?

Chelsea Putnam:
He’ll like rent out the entire Cave B area just for him and his crew and his family.

Dillon Honcoop:
Cave B is like a little resort?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. It’s a winery that’s grown over the years. Interestingly enough, Cave B originally owned by a surgeon and his wife. They had the original stage where the Gorge Amphitheater is now. They had their Cave B winery and then they had the stage where it was so small, but they would have people come and then they got bought out by Live Nation or whatever. I think it was Live Nation or maybe there was a company before Live Nation. And then it grew to what it is now. There’s a 26,000 people occupancy is huge. And so Cave B sits right next to the Gorge Amphitheater, still is just separated by a chain link fence. And they have an in where there’s a nice fancy restaurant. Then they have all these yachts out there looking out on the Gorge. They have these cliff houses and now they have in that area, it’s not owned by Cave B.

Chelsea Putnam:
Also, they have a winery with a tasting room, really good wine. And it’s gone through ownership changes where actually it’s now separated the winery is separate from the in now whereas it didn’t use to be, but they have these kind of tiny houses, not really tiny houses. They’re just a really smaller version of a modern looking apartment. And they’re all separated. And they’re just separated probably by, I don’t know, 20, 30 feet. And there’s a few of them out there. People have bought in them and rent them out on Airbnb for people going to the concert. It’s kind of turned into this little Villa resort thing.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. I think I’ve looked out in that direction at a concert, but not like, “What is that over there?”

Chelsea Putnam:
One a lot of those things are kind of hidden is, kind of hilly or whatever. And you have to drive down in it to really, to really get it.

Dillon Honcoop:
So many people have been right here in your neighborhood basically.

Chelsea Putnam:
Don’t go anywhere other than Cave B and the Gorge.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s crazy. What’s on your a playlist right now. What are you listening to these days?

Chelsea Putnam:
Good question. I’m on this kick. I listen to Pandora a lot and I go between podcasts and music. And when I start feeling a little like weird, I’m like, “Oh, I just need to listen to some music.” So I have my two favorite is Jack Johnson in Pandora station, which plays some really good upbeat stuff I like to listen to when I’m in the studio. I have a highly suspect, which is a little harder. And I like to listen and like scream sing along in my car or in the shower or whatever. And then actually a third one being when I’m just like chilling Iron & Wine. Have you heard of that?

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh yeah.

Chelsea Putnam:
I love, love, love them. And no matter what mood I’m in, I can turn them on. And the whole station’s good.

Dillon Honcoop:
Very chill.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. We’ve got like a chill middle of the road unlike super hard.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you’ve got a lot of tattoos?

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh gosh.

Dillon Honcoop:
How did you get into that?

Chelsea Putnam:
Well, when I was 18 I made some regrettable decisions. Yeah. It wasn’t so much a rebel. I didn’t go out partying or anything. I just went and got tattoos without permission, but I was 18.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you didn’t need permission?

Chelsea Putnam:
My first one was 18. I got with my sister and it just, I don’t know. I just love putting art on my body. And there’s that weird addicting adrenaline thing that goes along with the pain that people talk about, the pain being addicting or whatever. Yeah, what’s the word? Masochist? I’m not one of those. That’s the word I’m thinking of? I got my first tattoo when I was 18. And then from there I just, I don’t know. I’d get just like a little itch. I was bored and just go to different artists, check out their work and get a tattoo. And as I got older and appreciated it more and also made more money, because tattoos are expensive. I started finding people that did way better work and made my other ones look a little better. But the one funny, not funny, very irresponsible story on one of my tattoos. At PLU, my freshman year, I was dormed with a junior and she had a boyfriend that was a tattoo artist.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh boy.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’m worried about where this is going.

Chelsea Putnam:
It’s not so bad. He played soccer for Wenatchee Fire actually. And my parents still lived in Wenatchee at that time. And so when I drove home, I would take them and they would just carpool with me and to repay me for all that, he was like, “Oh, I’ll give you this awesome tattoo that you’ve been wanting.” And I was like, “Great. Where should we do it?” He said, “Oh, we’ll just do it in the dorm room.” And so we did it in the dorm room. It was fine, he would do his girlfriend’s tattoos in our dorm room too. Definitely breaking a lot of rules. But he was clean about it and it was set up very professionally.

Chelsea Putnam:
However, the caveat to that was that I didn’t know him as well as I thought I did. And he actually had a really bad drug problem. And I don’t know if he was withdrawing or too high or something, but he absolutely did the worst job I’ve ever seen. I stopped him in the middle. I was like, “You can’t keep going. I don’t know what’s wrong with you right now, but this looks horrific.” And over the years, I’ve gotten it kind of covered up.

Dillon Honcoop:
No way.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
How many tattoos do you have?

Chelsea Putnam:
I don’t count anymore because they blend together.

Dillon Honcoop:
You count that as one or three?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. I’ve sat in the chair probably 25 times.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow. What’s your favorite?

Chelsea Putnam:
My favorite is I have this big piece on my leg and it goes from my knee to my hip and it was about, Oh gosh, this girl that did the ta, we were like best friends at the time it was up in Alaska, just two peas in a pod. And just one of those really cool connections. She’s incredible artists. We sat for 13 hours. I think it was straight. And that was probably the most intense thing I’ve done ever, other than birthing a child. But I would say they’re equal.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really that intense?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. It was interesting experience. That’s my favorite and I think it has a lot to do with, I mean, the art is beautiful, but there was a lot of meaning. Like she drew this original piece for me on a piece of paper and it wasn’t even for a tattoo. She just was like, “I made this for you.” She’s an incredible artist. And I was like, “I’ll make you this sculptural piece, clay artwork if you tattoo that on my leg.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Art trade?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. She tattooed it on my leg. I made her a sculpture and we have a little piece of each other forever and ever. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you tell someone like me who has zero tattoos and is very scared of getting a tattoo?

Chelsea Putnam:
Are you, oh you-

Dillon Honcoop:
I have two things against me. Number one, I’m a total wimp like-

Chelsea Putnam:
With needles or pain?

Dillon Honcoop:
Pain. I’m just total wimp with pain. And secondly, I could never, I think tattoos look cool but I could never commit to something that-

Chelsea Putnam:
That would be my first advice because I’ve-

Dillon Honcoop:
If I could get one for a year or five years even then it would be like, “Okay. Yeah, we can do this.”

Chelsea Putnam:
It’s the commitment thing to a design. I think that would be my biggest piece of advice, especially because I’ve made really spontaneous decisions to get tattoos that have very little meaning, just because it looks cool. And that might be someone’s thing. It’s like, you don’t have to have a meaning. It could just look cool on your body or whatever. But just know that that’s what you want and think about it and think about it again and think about it again, because now that I have, I call it a real job where people see me in the public eye and kids see me and they see my tattoos and they’re like, “Where did you get those Ms. P? Are you in a gang?” Like, “No. Dark.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, I used to be more of a thing, but I think it’s getting less and less as more people learn to appreciate the art of tattoos.

Chelsea Putnam:
I think so, yeah. Some are very tasteful for sure. I have some finger tattoos that I can’t necessarily hide super well, some of my rings hide them, but that’s probably the most unprofessional ones that I have. Another piece of advice is consider what you want to do with your life, how you want people to see you. If you want people to look at you and be like, “Sick face tat bro.” Then get your face tat, then do it. You do you. But I don’t know it’s subjective to the person, but if you have any doubt, don’t do it. Actually in my boredom or as some of my stir-craziness, I shouldn’t say boredom, only boring people get bored. In my like being stir-crazy. I have been a millisecond away from getting a tattoo gun and like just training myself to do it.

Dillon Honcoop:
And doing it on yourself?

Chelsea Putnam:
Well, my brother actually volunteered himself as a canvas.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Chelsea Putnam:
I’ve talked to a lot of tattoo artists. You don’t just jump in and start doing it on people. There’s ways, you can train on pig skin or you can train on, I think there’s some melons that even you can like tattoo into and has some consistencies that’s correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
Get a little practice?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. Yeah. I was just thinking, a couple hours tried on some pigskin and then get my brother to lay down for me.

Dillon Honcoop:
You have a brave brother.

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh, I know. Or stupid, I don’t know. Maybe both.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s been the hardest time on the farm, this whole journey that you’ve been on?

Chelsea Putnam:
The hardest time. It’s all been challenging, which is good. The definitely the lavender farm has been challenging in the sense that the four of us, my mom, my dad, my brother and I work through a lot of ideas together. But we do a good job. It’s not been hard. It’s just been, like I said, challenging. I think the hardest time that we’ve experienced is we had a couple of years ago, three really bad years in a row on the orchards. Crops not great, return not good, just all the components that it really has to the stars have to kind of really aligned to get to turn a really good profit generate revenue, especially when you’re just a small, private farm.

Chelsea Putnam:
We thought we were going to have to sell everything, everything all of it. And the banks wouldn’t loan us any more money because we’ve had multiple bad years. It was really, really frightening to imagine all of it getting sold. Because, well now what do we do?

Dillon Honcoop:
What were you doing during that time to deal with that?

Chelsea Putnam:
Just continue to putter along and work and do the best we can to keep it moving and keep it going. And during that time it was when we were establishing the lavender farm, it wasn’t generating revenue like it does now. We didn’t have weddings out here yet. We didn’t have the Airbnb. We were still trying to dump money into it to make it what it is. We were just like, “Maybe we have to carrying it to the lavender farm too. And my brother and I always got paid though, we always got paid. My dad made sure of that, my mom made sure of that, which is good. Again, always very the rock they are the foundation. They’re providers for sure.

Chelsea Putnam:
Lots of praying on my dad’s end that’s for sure. And my uncle is involved in the farm, my dad’s brother. And so he has a fairly large role on the orchard side of it. Lots of talking, lots of trying to just figure out solutions. That’s more of my dad’s role than us just kind of waiting is waiting to see how the next season turned out. And fortunately right when we thought we were going to have to sell everything … My cat.

Dillon Honcoop:
I can hear the cat.

Chelsea Putnam:
Is it going to show up on here?

Dillon Honcoop:
I don’t know. We’ll have to find out.

Chelsea Putnam:
Right. When we thought we were going to have to sell everything, my dad was like, “One more year. We’re going to give it one more year and give it everything we’ve got. And if it’s another bad year it’s done, we’re done.” And that year we had the best season we’ve ever had. One of the orchards produce the best crop of cherries my dad had seen in the 28 years of farming it. It is unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. And it kept us afloat just enough. We had to have the best season of his whole farming career to just barely keep us afloat.

Dillon Honcoop:
Crazy.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah, it was crazy and then the year following that we actually had another great year. It just kind of put us one more step up and which is good because this year does not look great.

Dillon Honcoop:
I remember a year or two, one year in specific when I was a kid, I was like, “We’re not sure if we’re going to survive.” I remember my dad had to let go of the rest of his crew and was like, “Okay, we as a family, we’re just going to do the rest of the harvest ourselves.”

Chelsea Putnam:
Wow.

Dillon Honcoop:
That was scary. Because that’s all I had known. Think of like, what are we going to do? Like move into town? That sounded the most depressing thing in the world to me at the time.

Chelsea Putnam:
With all that towny people.

Dillon Honcoop:
Dad would just go to a job. We couldn’t be together on the farm all the time. I don’t know. I think there’s something that people don’t understand about the togetherness of farming with your family.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. Oh yeah. It’s very strengthening because you go through moments like that. It’s not just all the people think, “Oh, you farm apples and cherries. You guys are probably so loaded. You’re so rich.” No, not at all. Not at all. We’re broke and tired. What do your parents do?

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, but then people honestly will say, and this is a little bit harsh, but this is either they’ll say it or they’re thinking it they’ll say, “Well, so why do you do it then?” And that’s the hard part to explain.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah, how do you explain that? I kind of think it goes for me and this is how I answer that question. It goes back to what I was saying earlier about that needing new growth and change in my life. It was a beautiful, symbolic, physical way to see that through in my life. It’s kind of like raising a kid almost to, you’re putting something in the ground. You’re nourishing it. You’re loving it. You’re over time growing it into something that will have an end result that people will enjoy, especially berries. Oh my gosh. Right?

Dillon Honcoop:
What they don’t enjoy apples and lavender and cherries?

Chelsea Putnam:
I’m just saying. Yeah, I guess that was more personal. I love berries. I get a little tired of apples and cherries.

Dillon Honcoop:
But you love berries.

Chelsea Putnam:
I love berries.

Dillon Honcoop:
Don’t like apples or cherries.

Chelsea Putnam:
I do like apples and cherries and so TMI probably. But I have like an iron train got to cherries. Some people can’t eat a whole lot. I can eat them all, all day long.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yes. I endorse this. I do love cherries. It’s just interesting that you say that, because you say, “Oh, I love berries, raspberries in particular, which my dad grows I’m a huge fan of.

Chelsea Putnam:
You’ve just been around them too much. Huh?

Dillon Honcoop:
Like smell is, everyone else likes it. And to me it just smells like work. It smells like, “Okay, this smells like harvest.” Which, I mean, it has its own like good memories associated with it, but not like I want to eat that. I can’t explain it beyond that.

Chelsea Putnam:
I will not pay for apples and cherries in the store. I won’t, unless my son really wants apples, but also and I’m sure you understand this too. Your standard of seeing that produce in the stores on their shelves. It’s like, “What? Those cherries are 899 a pound and they’re like being cherries and they’re tiny and they’re kind of wrinkly. I’ll get some tomorrow at harvest.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. I see berries in a plastic clam shell in December and they’re pale and they’re from South America. And it’s like, “Why?”

Chelsea Putnam:
You’re like $10.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, totally. Expensive.

Chelsea Putnam:
But that, I think that’s a component that we’re really lucky to have growing up. Producing those things is we get to experience that produce in its most highest quality form right off the tree. There’s nothing better. And once you pass through and get the stuff, that’s good for the stores and all … I don’t know about berries. You know how much fruit is left on those trees at the end of the season? It’s a devastating amount. I just want to pick it all and take it to all the food banks.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why is it left behind?

Chelsea Putnam:
Not good enough. “Not good enough.” It’s not up to standard. Now, our consumers are so picky, so picky that is a Granny Smith apple, that when you look at a Granny Smith apple on a store general public views of Granny Smith apple is a nice, vibrant green with some speckles on it, but there shouldn’t be any pink or yellow. When we’re delivering to our warehouses, our packing sheds, if it has a spot of discoloration, any color other than green they throw it out because the consumer doesn’t want that. But what people don’t understand is those spots of color are from where it sat in the sun and soaked and formed more sugars than the rest of those apples and they taste better. Oh, I could get on a so box about that.

Dillon Honcoop:
But this is kind of like the ugly produce movement. Right. Isn’t that kind of a growing thing?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yes, and I’m so happy for that. I like that movement. I used to grow a lot of produce out here actually and sell it at farmer’s markets and to the restaurant at Cave B. Oh my gosh, so much work, very little return. And it was just me doing it on an acre of land.

Dillon Honcoop:
Like, what would you grow?

Chelsea Putnam:
Anything I could. And I just really wanted to see what would grow out here and how I could farm it and organically to. I learned a lot trial and error. But stuff that grows really well out here; Cucumbers, lemon cucumbers, tomatoes broccoli will not grow out here. We have some insects that are attracted from other circles and crops and maybe even the trees around us that would just demolish any kind of cauliflower or broccoli before it could even come up. Eggplant grows really well out here. Let’s see, lettuces grow very well out here. Any leafy greens really. I got to really trial and error that and gain this appreciation for the ugly produce movement.

Dillon Honcoop:
You had been involved with the whole farmer’s market thing too, right?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. My closest friend here in town and I started it four years ago.

Dillon Honcoop:
Started what?

Chelsea Putnam:
The farmer’s market. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Like which one?

Chelsea Putnam:
The only one Quincy’s ever had.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, it’s a Quincy-

Chelsea Putnam:
Quincy farmer’s market.

Dillon Honcoop:
Tell me about it. How did you do it?

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh my gosh. In fact, we have some evolving changes that are about to occur with that too, that I’m very excited about. Interestingly enough, the heart of one of the most thriving agriculture towns in our state, there was no farmer’s market. And when I first moved here, I was like, “Why hasn’t anyone tried to do this?” There’s been talk about it. And some people that are like, “That’d be cool. I’m going to do that one day.” Well, I was at a school district event and I met my friend who’s around my age and my mom was like, “Hey, I know you want to start a farmer’s market. Meet my daughter, this Chelsea, she wants to do one too.” And then we’ve been inseparable ever since. And it was quite the process and we wanted to do it right. We approached city council said, “Here’s our presentation. Here’s our plan. Do we have your approval? We want to use one of your parks.”

Chelsea Putnam:
We went around. Obviously got their approval. We went around asking for sponsorship from the businesses in town. And we raised about $15,000 from the business of supporting us and being what we call charter members. And in six months from meeting each other and talking, we started the farmer’s market. And we started out with 12 vendors, nothing big, pretty small. And we had some entertainment at the park. And then the next year we had a top amount of 24 vendors. And then the year after that, we had up to like 42 on one of our markets vendors from all over only selling handmade or home grown, no commercial stuff. And this year is looking like there’s going to be a lot of big changes because the parks are closed and the city doesn’t want us to be at the park if they’re not allowing the public to be there.

Chelsea Putnam:
It looks hypocritical, which I agree. Now, we’re looking at kind of redesigning the market and relocating it to a separate section in the city, which we were at a park kind of off. It was a really obscure location. We had a hard time directing people out there. This new move would bring business to the local businesses on the main street in Quincy. It would be on the oldest street in town where my apartment is actually 1906 building. And some restaurants, a winery, a catering business, a sandwich shop. It would be on a street with all of that and space enough for families to play in the grass areas, sit and hang out, have music. And the whole street would accommodate up to like 48 vendors, very comfortably with social distancing.

Dillon Honcoop:
Because that was the whole issue. Even like in Seattle, following the farmer’s markets there, they were closed for a while and people were like, “Well, if the grocery store is open, why not the farmer’s market?”

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh, yeah. I have lots of feelings about it too. And all this essential vendors stuff like there’s a list of essential businesses I have to turn down some of my most loyal vendors that have been with us from day one, because they’re not “Essential.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Because why they’re growing something different?

Chelsea Putnam:
No, because they’re crafting certain things that aren’t essential, but I’m like, “Hey, can you bake some cookies real quick? Because he can sell food.” Obviously.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s about food? Food has to be the thing?

Chelsea Putnam:
Food can be sold, especially obviously produce and then we can have a home improvement/home decor, which is interesting because that kind of incorporates some of our crafters. They make stuff to decorate your home or improve it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Crazy. Maybe I can see home improvement, but home decor is that really essential?

Chelsea Putnam:
Lowe’s and home Depot are open.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right.

Chelsea Putnam:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And health and sanitation. People that make soap, our farm can be there. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Interesting.

Chelsea Putnam:
It’s very interesting. It’s so wishy-washy.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, what’s the future for you?

Chelsea Putnam:
The future for me, I would like to stay close to this area so I can keep being involved in the farms. I’ll never leave the farms, but I would like to go back to the Wenatchee Valley and live there. I would like to teach there in one of the school districts over there. I just, I love the Valley. I love the area. I love Quincy too. Like my heart will always have a place here. Or I have a place in my heart for Quincy. I would like to, I am going to get my master’s degree this summer and it’s like an online program, so it’s not affected by this COVID crisis, thanks goodness.

Chelsea Putnam:
That’ll just get me more established, in the education system. And then I’d like to eventually once Mike’s grown up and I mean, he’s almost eight, so in 10 years I would love to go get my MFA like I planned be a college professor.

Dillon Honcoop:
Awesome.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. And so as you can see with all the things that I have a lot of, I like a lot of irons in the fire. I really like to stay busy and engaged and challenged. It’s a downfall sometimes. Because then I really spread myself really thin. I don’t believe that we can multitask. There’s only half- assing. And so I can tend to get a little dense sometimes. I would like to cut back on some of my involvement in things and really what I see for myself is teaching maybe even at central, because it’s so close and farming here.

Dillon Honcoop:
Awesome. Thank you so much.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People podcast. These are the stories of the people who grow your food.

Dillon Honcoop:
I love that that cat interrupted us at one point in that interview. And I actually, if you didn’t catch it on our Instagram, I shared that as kind of a sneak preview to this episode, make sure to follow us for more content like that. Sneak previews, behind the scenes stuff. We’re going to work on getting more pictures and info of the guests we have and the stuff that’s going on behind the scenes with the podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
This is the Real Food Real People podcast. I’m Dillon Honcoop, super glad that you’re subscribed and you’re plugged into what we’re doing here to share the real stories of the people who grow our incredible food here in Washington State.We think it’s just so important to know who your food is coming from. Again. Subscribe, follow us on Instagram, Facebook and check out realfoodrealpeople.org, and also give a big thank you to our sponsors.

Announcer:
The Real Food Real People podcast is sponsored in part by Safe Family Farming, giving a voice to Washington’s farm families. Find them online at safefamilyfarming.org and by dairy farmers of Washington supporting Washington dairy farmers, connecting consumers to agriculture and inspiring the desire for local dairy. Find out more at wadairy.org.

John Griggs | #014 03/16/2020

He's only 24 years old, but John Griggs is determined to keep his family's 120-year-old cherry and apple farm running. He shares what it's like growing up in a small Eastern Washington town, and why farming is harder than it used to be.

Transcript

John Griggs:
It’s getting hard to do it now. I mean, minimum wage, H-2A. It’s just kind of, we’re still getting the same pricing as we did five years ago when it was $9. It’s hard. But we got to make it work. I don’t see myself losing this farm, and I’ll do anything to keep it.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food, Real People podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay, so I’m going to geek out a little bit on this week’s episode. I grew up on a family fruit farm in Washington State and so did our guest today, but on the other side of the Cascade Mountains. And so, so many of his experiences fit with mine, yet the specific details are different, if that makes sense. So forgive me for just wanting to know everything about how his farm works. We’re going to talk with John Griggs. He’s a fifth-generation true fruit farmer. They do cherries and apples and a few pears over in Orondo, just north of Wenatchee.

Dillon Honcoop:
And he reminds me of myself and I guess kind of who I would have been if I would have decided to stay with the farming thing, which I had to think a lot about when I was in high school and deciding what was I going to do after high school. Was I going to stick with the farming thing? Was I going to go to college for farming? Or for something else? I was also passionate about communications. I took the communications route, obviously. But there’s still part of me that wonders, “Should I have done the farming thing?” I still have it in my blood, I still love it so much. And that’s the life he’s living. He’s a true-blue farm kid, so that’s why I’m really pumped to share his story and the stuff that he faces day-to-day.

Dillon Honcoop:
So again, John Griggs, Jr. His dad is John Griggs as well. Join me now in getting to know him and hearing what his life is all about, somebody who’s super passionate about farming and growing apples and cherries and pears. This is the Real Food, Real People podcast documenting my journeys across Washington State to get to know the real people behind the food that we grow and eat here.

Dillon Honcoop:
You grew up around this.

John Griggs:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
From being a baby, you were on the farm.

John Griggs:
This is life.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was that like growing up?

John Griggs:
I learned how to drive a tractor at 10 years old and I was working, swamping during the summer. Right after school it was, “Go work.” But it was really nice. I really enjoyed it.

Dillon Honcoop:
So when is cherry season? When do things really get crazy, like right after you would get done with your school year?

John Griggs:
Yeah, mid-June is right when it starts. But build up to that, still, and getting the dormant sprays on. And then we end usually third week of July, is when our sweethearts come off. No, it was friends came second, obviously, but it was always fun to run around in the orchard and hang out and enjoy the sunshine.

Dillon Honcoop:
As a kid, what did you do like during harvest time? What was your job, like once you maybe were a teen and stuff?

John Griggs:
Yeah. When I first started, I was down with my dad at our loading area and watering down the buckets and getting them ready to put in the reefer. But when I was about 12 I started swamping, which, that was a task.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah so what does that mean? What is swamping?

John Griggs:
Swamping, you’re really just putting buckets in bins and following tractors around, making sure you don’t miss anything.

Dillon Honcoop:
So like full buckets? Like buckets that people have picked into?

John Griggs:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
The crews pick into a bucket.

John Griggs:
Yeah. The crews pick into a, it’s like a 17.5-pound bucket, and put them into the bins, so that’s for yellow cherries. And then, red cherries, we do pick into these 30-pound crates and then dump them in the bins.

Dillon Honcoop:
Probably got to dump pretty careful not to-

John Griggs:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Soft. Soft, soft. It’s a heavy day.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, how many hours a day?

John Griggs:
Usually you’re up at 3:00 and go until about 2:30 and then you go talk to dad and see if you have to spray at night.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, now I’ve heard things about sometimes with the heat you have to take time off.

John Griggs:
Yeah. Heat’s a big part of it. You don’t want to pick when it’s above 90 degrees. That’s when you’ll start to get some bruising and it’s just, cherries don’t like heat.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you were working like crazy as a kid on the farm. At what point did you decide, “This is what I want to do”?

John Griggs:
I think when I was like five years old. Just seeing my dad and how he worked. And he drove a semi after work to Seattle and to the airport to dump cherries off. And just seeing his drive and providing for us and I really wanted to be like him. Still do.

Dillon Honcoop:
You get to go along on those trips sometimes?

John Griggs:
I did, I did. I slept in the back on the bunk and I’d go over with him, try to go as many times as possible until mom said, “No. You’re staying home for the night.”

Dillon Honcoop:
How many pounds of cherries on a semi?

John Griggs:
Our semi’s rated for 105,000 pounds. So, you got about 110 bins in that semi. We got four reefers that are 53 feet long.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what happens to your cherries? How do they marketed? Is that a fresh product that people are consuming?

John Griggs:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, so we do a lot in our export. So Asia, Taiwan, Singapore. We go through a marketing company and they’ll kind of tell us what to pick and we’ll go with it. And this past year, we used to be in the packing business as well, we owned Orondo Fruit Company, and it was for about 40 years, and so we packed cherries and we did it ourselves. But now, things change, and we’re going through them. We do some domestic. We got our own cherry and that goes domestic.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you mean your own cherry?

John Griggs:
We actually have our own patent on a cherry.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, really?

John Griggs:
Yeah. It’s called the Orondo Ruby, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
So explain, what’s special about it?

John Griggs:
It’s kind of an early Rainier. It’s a little bit more tart than a Rainier, but still yellow flesh and really pretty red, like a ruby, I guess. But we found that about 12 years ago, my grandpa.

Dillon Honcoop:
Explain. How does that happen, that he found it?

John Griggs:
He was walking through one of our blocks, actually, on our home blocks, and he noticed the cherry was a little earlier, and it was in a Rainier block. My grandpa was like, “Let’s send it off. Let’s take a sample and give it to a nursery and see if they can…” And it was totally different. It’s a hybrid. We don’t know, the alleles are totally different, it’s just kind of one in a million, like…

Dillon Honcoop:
So wait, was it just a happenstance cross between something else that happened to be in your…?

John Griggs:
Yeah. Yeah, I mean, it was dead center in one of our Rainier blocks.

Dillon Honcoop:
And it was just one tree?

John Griggs:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), one. We call it the mother tree. Yeah, it’s weird, and he doesn’t know how it happened. And he’s been farming, he’s almost 80, he’s 75, and he’s never seen it happen before.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s crazy.

John Griggs:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Because I know, like, growing up with the raspberry business on my parents’ farm, it was always, you know, coming up with a new variety, which varieties to cross. And, you know, there were scientists that were working on this to come up with a berry that’s better or more hearty, or, you know, all these desirable qualities, which is why we have a lot of the fruits and veggies that we have.

John Griggs:
It is. And a lot of people don’t know that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, yeah. Anything.

John Griggs:
Yeah. Almost every apple now, it’s crossed either with a Honeycrisp or an old apple back in Michigan or New York. I mean, it’s weird.

Dillon Honcoop:
But for it to just happen spontaneously, that’s crazy.

John Griggs:
Yeah. And even the nursery was like, “We don’t know.” But we farm that, it’s about the third week of June that gets harvested. Got about 80 acres of it.

Dillon Honcoop:
How many acres total do you guys have fruit on?

John Griggs:
About 480. Yeah. About 230 of it is cherries.

Dillon Honcoop:
And what’s the rest?

John Griggs:
Apples and four acres of pears.

Dillon Honcoop:
So talk a little bit about your family history. You’re fifth-generation on this farm.

John Griggs:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
And you’re, what, like 23?

John Griggs:
24.

Dillon Honcoop:
24 years old.

John Griggs:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
How did your family end up here? Where’d they come from?

John Griggs:
I think my great-great-grandma was from Norway and she was a fisher. And then she moved here in like the late 1800s. And she moved, her husband built a house, first stick-built house in Douglas County, and then started farming. We started with peaches. We farmed about 50 acres of peaches, which, that was a tedious task.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. What’s the deal with peaches? Being from western Washington, I don’t know about growing these kinds of fruit.

John Griggs:
They’re just hard… if you look at them wrong, they’ll bruise.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really, wow.

John Griggs:
When they’re ripe. And just packing them is tedious. We packed them in a red barn. We packed them until I was 15 in a red barn and then we finally took them out. But the family, we’ve been farming I think since 1900, and started. And we just tore down our last cherry tree from, it was at least 100 years old, and finally stopped giving us fruit.

Dillon Honcoop:
So that was like one of the original trees?

John Griggs:
Yeah, it was about 25 feet tall.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

John Griggs:
Yeah. And it had one limb that had fruit left on it.

Dillon Honcoop:
So that’s what happens? The cherry trees just get too old and don’t put fruit out anymore?

John Griggs:
Yeah they’ll start to get some rot in them, and it’s just time for them get out. But it was hard, especially on my grandpa. But no, I’ve never moved out of the valley. I mean, I went to college in Wenatchee and went through the tree fruit program, and it’s the only place I really live[d].

Dillon Honcoop:
What was it like, you grew up right here in Orondo?

John Griggs:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
How big is this town?

John Griggs:
It’s got a gas station, a golf course, and one restaurant. And that’s about it.

Dillon Honcoop:
I guess I could Wikipedia this, but what’s the population of Orondo?

John Griggs:
Like 500, probably. And then during harvest about, probably 3,000.

Dillon Honcoop:
Just because of all the workers.

John Griggs:
Just all the workers coming in.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what’s it like growing up in a town that small?

John Griggs:
You kind of are free to roam the land, really. Everybody knows each other. You’ll see the old folk at the gas station in the morning, drinking coffee and talking about what their orchard’s doing, really. All my family lives here, really, or Waterville, which is just up the hill from us. I don’t see it any other way. Like going over to Seattle or Spokane, it’s still just wide-eyed, like, “Why is there so much traffic?” But no, I went to school, I guess there’s a little schoolhouse. But I mean I grew up with all my buddies and I’m still friends with them, and they’re still out here, too.

Dillon Honcoop:
Sometimes when you grow up in a small town there are a lot of kids. I grew up in a small town, not as small as Orondo, but there were a lot of kids who were like, “I want to get out of here,” you know, “I’m just waiting to get done with high school and I’m going to go to college and I’m gone.”

John Griggs:
Yeah. My mom and dad wanted me to but I was like, “I don’t see it.”

Dillon Honcoop:
They wanted you to leave?

John Griggs:
Well, they wanted me to get out and experience another town, even if it was like WSU Pullman or wherever. They were like, “I was never given that chance, so do it.” And I was like, “No. I’m going to be stubborn and stay here” and I don’t regret it. I don’t know, I just can’t see myself any other way.

Dillon Honcoop:
Are there bad things about growing up in this small of a town?

John Griggs:
Yes and no. The drive to town is about 35 minutes, which is fine.

Dillon Honcoop:
To Wenatchee?

John Griggs:
Yeah. During the summer you get a lot of boats on the river, people being dumb, but that’s it, really. I don’t see it. I don’t see very many negatives. Sometimes the fires, we get pretty good fires. But that’s it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Ever had a fire affect the orchards?

John Griggs:
No. We’ve had one close but nothing burned, thank goodness.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the future look like, do you think? What are your plans? What do you want to see this become?

John Griggs:
I want it to get a little bigger, but it’s getting hard to do it now. I mean minimum wage, H-2A, it’s just kind of… we’re still getting the same pricing as we did five years ago when it was $9. But I see us, we’re in a good spot. We can still grow, and we’re planning on it, just finding the right opportunities and partners and stuff like that.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you talk about the minimum wage. That’s a higher cost for the farm with-

John Griggs:
Oh yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Not like you’re getting more money for your fruit, you’re saying?

John Griggs:
No, no. We’re getting same pricing five, 10 years ago on fruit.

Dillon Honcoop:
And you mentioned H-2A, too. How has that affected this whole situation?

John Griggs:
That’s made the minimum wage go higher than regular minimum wage, and I think it’s like $15, high $15, and we had to bring in 100 guys this year. And we have about 275 people working during cherries and pears and stuff, which is, I mean, we pay by bucket. But if they don’t pick the bucket rate, which, minimum wage, I mean, it’s hard to pick that many buckets in an hour. It’s just made costs go way up. Chemicals keep going up, and land prices are up, and just kind of a tough spot.

Dillon Honcoop:
How do you handle working with employees? There’s been a lot of talk about that and are workers being treated fairly.

John Griggs:
Oh, yeah. The foreman, our foreman, he’s been here for 35 years. I grew up with his kids, I’m friends with them, I hang out with them, I go to the worker dinner, like potlucks and stuff. Every year we do like a soccer game down at the school and we’ve got about 30 guys that I’ve, they’re pretty much grown up, and taught me a bunch, pruning. I’ve worked alongside with them, I’ve been to people’s soccer games, I’ve gone to their kids’ wrestling matches. Our guys, I’m very thankful for them for being here for us and try to treat them good. They all live in our housing and stuff like that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right now, in any line of work anywhere, people are just looking for good people.

John Griggs:
Yeah, yeah. You got to be there for your employees and stand up for them and help them out, I feel like. That’s what my dad’s taught me.

Dillon Honcoop:
There’s been a lot of talk, though, about how hard it is to find people who want to work on a farm.

John Griggs:
It is. Especially the swampers, the teens, the high schoolers, they’d much rather not work. They’d rather go up to Chelan and go swimming up at the lake. It’s really hard to find a young kid that wants to work in an orchard, get their hands dirty, be hot all day, and work, get up at 3:00. You can’t find very many. I’ve got cousins that are having to work for us and they like it, but it’s not their favorite.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. If you’re good, how much money can you make during season?

John Griggs:
Oh man.

Dillon Honcoop:
Like, by the hour?

John Griggs:
Well, we do by bucket if you can pick that many. One day we worked until like 5:00 at night picking before a rain storm, and I was driving a tractor, and I came up to one guy and was scanning his card and I was like, “He has a 105 buckets already!” And that’s like $600, $700 and I’m like, “Oh my God!” And I go and tell my mom and she’s like, “I know. I know.” You can make good money. If you work hard for it you’ll make a decent, you’ll probably make $10,000, $15,000 in a month and a half.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really.

John Griggs:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

John Griggs:
Yeah. If you’re fast, you’re good.

Dillon Honcoop:
So that difficulty of just finding enough people to do the work, though, that’s why you guys had to bring in H-2A?

John Griggs:
Oh, yeah. Yeah, we used to be able to do just 150 guys but our production’s gone way up. Nobody would even stop by. We used to have people stop by looking for work. Now it’s almost nonexistent. We go to like the WorkSource and put our name out there. I mean we even upped our per-bucket pay, and… nobody. So we were like, “We got to do this or…”

Dillon Honcoop:
What if you paid even more?

John Griggs:
I don’t know. I’d hope people would come. I mean, I’d much rather work outside than in an office. But we’ve tried almost everything, ads in the paper, put them in Orondo stores or Wal Marts. Nobody. Calling my cousin’s friends, “Hey, you want to come work for a couple weeks? You can stay out at our place,” but they’d say no.

Dillon Honcoop:
You talk about your dream, as you continue on with this family farm, to get bigger. Could the issue of finding workers keep you from being able to do that?

John Griggs:
Yeah. Oh, yeah. Definitely. You’d almost have to bring a whole, probably a couple of hundred H-2A in. You also need housing for them, which, we had to bus them out from Cashmere. We bought three school buses just to get– we even pay people’s rent for their housing and that didn’t work. But the H-2A, they’re here to work and they’re slow at first, but they catch on pretty good.

Dillon Honcoop:
Just because they’re people, you know, they haven’t done this particular kind of work before?

John Griggs:
Yeah. Some of them have been up here before, but mostly this isn’t even their profession. I mean they’re contractors or just farmers themselves. But yeah, when they come up here they’re kind of like “ugh,” and of course they’re far away from home.

Dillon Honcoop:
So from what you’re saying that’s pretty expensive to do, though, to bring those people.

John Griggs:
It’s very expensive, yeah. It’s about, I think it’s like $1,500 a person to get them up here.

Dillon Honcoop:
And then the wage that they make.

John Griggs:
And then the wage they make and the housing we have to pay for, which, yeah, it adds up.

Dillon Honcoop:
But you have to do that-

John Griggs:
You have to do it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Just because there’s nobody else?

John Griggs:
Yeah. You got to do it. The farther north you go, the harder it gets to find people, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you talk about getting bigger. That would be just adding more acres of cherries? Or do you want to branch out into other stuff?

John Griggs:
Probably go more into apples. I feel we’ve got plenty of cherries, got about three million pounds of cherries.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

John Griggs:
Yeah. It’s crazy.

Dillon Honcoop:
What kind of apples do you guys have?

John Griggs:
We got Buckeye Galas, it’s a high-color Gala, Aztec Fujis, high-color, pretty much everything high-color. Honeycrisp.

Dillon Honcoop:
What does that mean, high-color?

John Griggs:
Really red and more… the older varieties were lighter and the new ones are bam-in-your-face red. And Honeycrisp, Royal Red Honeycrisp, the newer version. And SugarBee, SugarBee’s a club variety.

Dillon Honcoop:
What does that mean?

John Griggs:
The warehouse that owns the variety, well, the marketing company owns it, but we have to go through our packing house to get it.

Dillon Honcoop:
This is like a proprietary thing where you get licensed to do it?

John Griggs:
Yeah. Yeah we pay a royalty for the trees. We got about, I think we pick 1,200 bins of those, it’s like a really sweet apple.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’ve seen them in the store but I can’t honestly say I’ve had one, now that you bring that up.

John Griggs:
They’re very good, they’re super sweet. It’s almost like a candy.

Dillon Honcoop:
Awesome.

John Griggs:
But no, that’s a very good apple. And I guess we got some Ambrosia, too, that are grafted. And Grannies.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you’re busy in, like, June into July with the cherries.

John Griggs:
Yep.

Dillon Honcoop:
And then, what, you have a lull in the middle of the summer?

John Griggs:
We have about three weeks and then we start pears. But thankfully, we only have a little bit. But then right after pears is apples, Galas, and it’s go until about a week after my birthday, which is in October. Yeah. Last year we went a little late on the Fujis and Pink Ladies.

Dillon Honcoop:
Now, I read somewhere that there’s some people who had apples they didn’t even pick this year. Was that because of weather?

John Griggs:
Yeah. We had a freeze come through in the Quincy area and stuff and they literally froze. And I mean, you can’t do anything, they’ll shrivel and it’s just no good. A lot of people for their Fujis did that.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s a late variety?

John Griggs:
It’s a later variety, yeah. But help was pretty hard this year, too, so some people were picking with half a crew. On the bigger orchards, too.

Dillon Honcoop:
Just because they couldn’t get enough workers?

John Griggs:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. And they were paying, like, $35, $40 a bin, and that’s a lot of money.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

John Griggs:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s what this state is famous for.

John Griggs:
It is.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s it like to know that you’re raising and providing that food that’s world famous?

John Griggs:
It’s kind of cool. But at the same time, it’s a task. I mean, you got to get in a good market to even hope to make some money. I think we grow the right varieties, and the new varieties which people are seeing in the stores. But it’s definitely different. You can’t have old orchards anymore. You got to have new, high-density, really high-density orchards to do it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why is that? Why does the density make a difference?

John Griggs:
More bins per acre, just more volume. People are trying to up the volume. You can’t do like 40 bins an acre anymore, you go to be 80, 100. Some are at 120.

Dillon Honcoop:
How much does a bin weigh?

John Griggs:
About 800 to 1,200 pounds.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s a lot of weight.

John Griggs:
Yeah. Pears are heavier.

Dillon Honcoop:
Per acre.

John Griggs:
Yeah. Yeah, you’re picking a lot of fruit.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s amazing.

John Griggs:
And we don’t have, it’s still picked the same way as it was way back when. There’s no picking machine yet. You still got to have the bodies. And people don’t like picking apples.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah?

John Griggs:
It’s heavy, your back is shot.

Dillon Honcoop:
Hard work.

John Griggs:
Hard, hard work. Your fingers hurt and you’re all sweaty.

Dillon Honcoop:
You talk about different varieties and stuff. There’s been a lot of buzz about Cosmic Crisp.

John Griggs:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Anybody doing that around here?

John Griggs:
Oh, yeah. We didn’t have any acreage to open up for it. But yeah, almost everybody north planted some.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s another one of those like SugarBee where you have to pay a royalty, right?

John Griggs:
I believe so. But I know it’s only us in the state that can grow it, the apple growers. But it’s a great apple, stores really well, it’s crisp. I like it a lot, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s always interesting because you hear the buzz in public. I always wonder, you know, what are the farmers saying behind the scenes on something new like that? Like, “Oh, this is our champagne in the butt,” or something like that.

John Griggs:
Oh, yeah. It’s a pain to open up the land, get it all ready, buy the supplies and materials, and then plant it.

Dillon Honcoop:
To put a new variety in.

John Griggs:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Otherwise, how long does a planting last in apples?

John Griggs:
We’ve got some trees that are 40 years old.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

John Griggs:
Yeah, some Granny trees in our driveway.

Dillon Honcoop:
Do they still produce good?

John Griggs:
Yeah. They’re 80 bins an acre right now.

Dillon Honcoop:
When you say Granny, you mean Granny Smith?

John Griggs:
Granny Smith, yeah. The old… I don’t like those apples.

Dillon Honcoop:
Too tart for you?

John Griggs:
Way too tart.

Dillon Honcoop:
See, that’s what I like about them.

John Griggs:
Oh, really?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

John Griggs:
They make a good pie. But yeah. I like Galas, Goldens, and Fujis are my main ones.

Dillon Honcoop:
What makes a really good apple, or for that matter, a really good cherry? What’s the secret to that? Because I know the fruit that we produce here in Washington, and particularly here in this area, Wenatchee, Orondo, is some of the best anywhere.

John Griggs:
Yeah. You need the weather, good weather. You need a good microclimate. Where we are in this valley, I mean, I think we produce some of the best cherries in the world. I know it’s my family’s orchard, but we’ve been in billboards in China, I mean, I’ve seen people fighting over our fruit over there.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’ve been over there a few times?

John Griggs:
Yeah. Well, at least my dad has. He’s sent me pictures, of course, but no. You got to work hard for it, you can’t miss a task. If you miss one you might be like, “Oh shoot, it’s not this big.” You got to have the right sprays, you got to have the Mylar pulled out to make them red.

Dillon Honcoop:
Now explain, how does that work?

John Griggs:
So the sun reflects off the Mylar underneath the cherries. The tops of the cherries get red, for yellow cherries. Red cherries, they get red no matter what. But you pull out, we have this, it’s like a fabric-y kind of stuff. It’s called Extenday. It’s a white Mylar film, it’s reusable. So you pull it out, the sun reflects off it, you got about seven hours of good sun for it to pretty much, my grandpa says it bakes the fruit.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you’re basically, it’s reflective, bounces the light back up.

John Griggs:
Bounces off into the bottoms of the fruit to redden the bottoms and sides, and it’s pretty much a mini-sun on the bottom of the trees.

Dillon Honcoop:
Like people who use reflectors when they’re out suntanning or whatever, I’ve seen people do that before.

John Griggs:
Yeah. Exactly, exactly like that. Just on a bigger scale.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, I guess. It’s got to be quite the job to put all that out.

John Griggs:
Putting it out and picking it up, it’s a pain. You’re hot and it’s just, ugh, no.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, because you don’t do that when the weather is cool.

John Griggs:
No, no, you’re baking if it’s cool. If it’s hot, you’re like, “What do you want me to do now?” I’ll go pick it up… It gets water on it… Yeah, it’s hard.

Dillon Honcoop:
Does it take a lot of irrigation for these trees?

John Griggs:
Yeah. On apples, we use overhead cooling, overhead sprinklers to keep them cool. Or else it will… apples will bake on the tree. Cherries-

Dillon Honcoop:
Sunburn, or…?

John Griggs:
They’ll get sunburned. They’ll start to shrivel if it’s hot and then cool. Apples are a lot harder to keep cool.

Dillon Honcoop:
And they have to be out there for more of the hot summer, too, since they aren’t ripe until-

John Griggs:
Uh-huh, they got to make it through until fall, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I don’t think the cherries could probably make it, could they?

John Griggs:
No. Cherries would-

Dillon Honcoop:
If they were.

John Griggs:
They’d turn into a raisin. Yeah, it takes quite a bit of water. But we got a bunch of wells. Summers are hot, but not enough to make things difficult.

Dillon Honcoop:
So somebody going grocery shopping, what should they be looking for when they’re looking for cherries, for instance?

John Griggs:
Well, check the stems. The stems, if they’re not green, I wouldn’t buy them.

Dillon Honcoop:
What does that tell you?

John Griggs:
It’s just, the cherry’s been sitting there for a while and it’s probably really soft.

Dillon Honcoop:
So it’s an indicator of freshness.

John Griggs:
Yeah, yeah. And check and make sure the stem’s like not that big, not tiny, but more long. It’s just how you… I say the quality of the fruit.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right.

John Griggs:
Yeah. That’s how I was taught to look at fruit. But you got to think of how long it takes. You got to have them packed, you got to… you won’t get to a fruit until it’s probably a week old, but they hold their freshness.

Dillon Honcoop:
Probably also should check and make sure it’s grown in Washington.

John Griggs:
Yes. Check and make sure it’s here, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s competition for you guys? Is there fruit that comes in from other parts of the country or the world [inaudible 00:31:11]?

John Griggs:
Oh, yeah. California, Turkey. Chile is a big one. Chile, I think they’re either picked or picking soon, their fruit.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right, because they’re-

John Griggs:
They’re totally different, it’s their summer.

Dillon Honcoop:
Opposite side of the year. Right.

John Griggs:
Yeah. Europe has quite a bit of cherries, surprisingly. Who else…

Dillon Honcoop:
Those don’t end up over here, though, do they?

John Griggs:
Sometimes you have to buy them.

Dillon Honcoop:
Just different timing of seasons?

John Griggs:
It’s different timing, markets change, tariffs change. I mean, things lift and they’re like, “Flood the market, let’s go!” And you’re sitting here, “No!” You got to check with all that kind of stuff. And sometimes you’ll get fruit that’s not even from the United States, but yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
No thanks.

John Griggs:
No thanks.

Dillon Honcoop:
I want fruit from here.

John Griggs:
I want fruit from here and to be my fruit.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Well, and there’s, it’s just different standards here.

John Griggs:
It is. I think this state grows, by far, the best fruit. Whether it be apples, cherries, peaches, I think we get it done and right.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why is that?

John Griggs:
The weather. The people growing them, they care. They want their product to be well, and they’ll complain if they don’t get it done right. I mean, I know my family does if the cherry doesn’t… if we’re picking a little green on one day, we’ll say, “Oh, we’re done.” We want them to be good for the consumer. We care about them. That’s what keeps us [in] business.

Dillon Honcoop:
With it being tougher and tougher to find labor and other pressures here, do you think there could be a future where there’s more and more stuff that’s just brought in from other countries?

John Griggs:
There could be, yeah. That’s definitely, I mean, our standards are way different than elsewhere, I can tell you that. I’ve seen some that I’m like, “How is that even possible? I would never do that!”

Dillon Honcoop:
From, like, other countries?

John Griggs:
Yeah, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Like what kind of stuff?

John Griggs:
Like I’ve seen, my dad’s sent me pictures of like apples on the ground, like bare ground, dirt, and they’re selling them like that with a tarp over them. I’m like, if we did that we’d get in a lot of trouble.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, no kidding.

John Griggs:
And we got really strict standards here, not just us but everywhere, and you’ll get bit for it if you don’t.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the biggest pressure for the farm? What’s the hardest thing for, like, thinking about the future, to keep it going?

John Griggs:
I’d say labor, mostly. Yeah. Our guys are getting older. I’d say most of our guys are over 45, 50 years old and they’re going to want to go do stuff. And it’s scary but you got to keep doing it, I guess, one way or another. We’ve thought about bringing platforms in, going more mechanical, but they don’t have a picking machine yet. But they’re trying. We just… Efficiency, I guess. Labor, equipment’s not cheap anymore. But yeah, everything, everything’s gone up tenfold.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what do you do, then, to do deal with that? Because you’re saying you’re not getting any more, really, for your product.

John Griggs:
You got to make sure you got the right stuff. Labor, equipment. You got to keep up on equipment more, you’re going to have to put more hours on the already over-houred tractor, you’re going to have to be smart, try to be more efficient. Just think of creative ways to farm now instead of just do the same thing your dad did.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. That doesn’t get it done anymore I know, for sure.

John Griggs:
Sadly.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you think about the whole organic thing? You guys aren’t doing the organic thing?

John Griggs:
No. Organic, I think it’s getting flooded. The first people that did it, they hit home runs. But we tried to go organic on our pears and we were spraying more then than on our conventional stuff.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wait, your organic?

John Griggs:
Yeah, you’re spraying more on your organic than your conventional. You don’t have the same potency, everything’s like a virus. For insecticides, they’re pretty much a biological virus for the insect, doesn’t affect anybody else. But yeah, we were spraying two times a week instead of once, or sometimes three. If we were getting a lot of coddling moth, or any insect, really, we had to go back through.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. I know previously we had April Clayton from up the road on the podcast here and they were doing organic cherries and had to stop for that reason, because the organic products that they were having to use were killing their cherry trees.

John Griggs:
Yeah, oh yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’ve seen that?

John Griggs:
I’ve seen that all the time. Organic cherries are, that’s hard, hard, hard to do. Chemicals are totally different. And even right now, our stuff isn’t like it was.

Dillon Honcoop:
I guess people are worried about chemicals being on their fruit.

John Griggs:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
What would you tell them?

John Griggs:
I wouldn’t be nervous. I eat fruit right off the tree and I’m fine. But I don’t see it being a big issue, not anymore.

Dillon Honcoop:
Back in the old days.

John Griggs:
Back in the old days, no.

Dillon Honcoop:
So why do you have to do that, I guess, for somebody who’s curious, why do you have to spray anything? Why do the organic people, why do they even have to spray? What are they trying to deal with?

John Griggs:
Keeping pests down. I mean, ou don’t want to be the guy that has a coddling moth, or a cherry fruit fly, which, if you get cherry fruit fly, you’re done with the warehouse. You got to stop.

Dillon Honcoop:
They’ll kick you out and they won’t take your fruit.

John Griggs:
They’ll kick you out. They’ll… “No, sorry.” They’ll even, what they have they already packed, they’ll throw away.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that probably what leaves little tiny worms in the fruit or something?

John Griggs:
Yeah, it’s a little tiny worm in the cherry.

Dillon Honcoop:
Ugh.

John Griggs:
Yeah. But very few people get that. If they don’t upkeep their orchard, they’re the ones that get it. But you got to spray to keep pests down, you got to spray nutrients on the leaves, you got to get the leaves big. You got to fertilize them, you got to feed the tree. It can’t do it on its own. If it does, it’s going to be a gnarly-looking tree. After a cherry season, the trees, they’ve produced 20, 30 pounds of fruit on their tree, some more. You got to give them some food and put them to bed. Put ’em to sleep.

Dillon Honcoop:
Do they go, like, dormant then? Or what do they…?

John Griggs:
Oh, yeah. They’ll go dormant, they’ll lose all their leaves. Buds will start coming in, they’ll be tight, but they’re just getting ready for the spring.

Dillon Honcoop:
I can tell you love it.

John Griggs:
Oh, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why? Why do you have so much passion for this?

John Griggs:
It’s freedom. I mean, I get to work with my family, I get to help just give product that I’m passionate for. And it’s all I’ve known. I didn’t see myself sitting in an office all day long. But even here, I can be working from 3:00 to God knows when. One time I sprayed 22 hours straight and then had an hour off to sleep and I had to go drive a tractor in the cherries. Yeah. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I get to see my family. I live on the farm. I’m two minutes away from my grandpa. He’s probably my biggest motivator, biggest to do anything, I’ve lived right next to him for 24 years.

Dillon Honcoop:
What have you learned from him?

John Griggs:
I’ve learned what the varieties are, I’ve learned how he does things, I’ve learned how to tree train. I’ve learned how to plant orchards. I’ve learned what a high density orchard is compared to a medium density, to a low density. I’ve learned how to know when fruit’s ready. Pretty much everything.

Dillon Honcoop:
Being raised in this world, what was it like going to college for that program? It sounds like maybe you could have taught the classes yourself.

John Griggs:
Yeah, it was… I learned some stuff. I had to get something to work out here. I don’t even work out here full-time yet.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what else do you do?

John Griggs:
Inside sales for an ag chem company in east Wenatchee.

Dillon Honcoop:
A lot of farmers have jobs off the farm to keep doing it.

John Griggs:
Yeah. They need to now. You’ll get people working for the DOT in the winter to plow roads. Some of them don’t even… they’re hobby farmers. They’ve got five, 10 acres and they’ll do it, “Well, I got to go prune,” they’ll do it by themselves.

Dillon Honcoop:
Do you hope to one day be entirely on the farm?

John Griggs:
Oh yeah. I hope soon.

Dillon Honcoop:
What will that take?

John Griggs:
My dad, my family’s young. They had me young, so he’s about 18, 19 years older than me. So I’ve got a… and he doesn’t own the orchard fully yet. So, kind of got to wait for that to happen then.

Dillon Honcoop:
Keeping a farm like this in the family is hard if you’re-

John Griggs:
It’s hard, hard. But we got to make it work. I don’t see myself losing this farm, and I’ll do anything to keep it.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’ve asked other people in your situation if they feel a lot of pressure, but it sounds like, to me, it’s not that you feel pressure other than just your own, like you’re passionate about it and want to keep doing it.

John Griggs:
I’ve got to do it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Not because somebody else is telling you to.

John Griggs:
No. My dad told me, “You go do you,” whether it not even be in the farm. He doesn’t care. As long as I’m making a living and doing good in society, I guess.

Dillon Honcoop:
But you’re like, “No, I want to keep this going.”

John Griggs:
Yeah and same with my sister. I mean she worked in the orchard but she was like, “Ugh, I got to do this.” But she liked it and now she wants to be on the marketing side. And in the orchard, too, but. As long as you’re passionate about it, go for it, they say.

Dillon Honcoop:
What would you say to folks in Seattle who are eating [inaudible 00:42:06] fruit from over here, or food from anywhere grown in Washington?

John Griggs:
Know it’s grown with passion. Even if it’s a big two, three thousand-acre farm, I mean, there’s people behind it. You got to know they have families and you’re here providing for them, really, I mean this is their job, their life. They’re just as passionate as I am. Whether they’re in that situation or not, they still do it. Big farms are still owned by families, too. I’m really good friends with big growers and they’re just like us, just two or three times bigger. But they don’t see themselves leaving, they want the small growers still, and everybody helps each other out in the farming. We share people with our neighbors, I mean, I have an uncle that lives right to us that has a 13-acre pear orchard and we come and pick it for him, and he helps us out, too.

Dillon Honcoop:
Can the consumer trust the fruit that they’re buying that’s grown in Washington?

John Griggs:
Absolutely. Know it’s grown with care.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s your biggest fear with all of this?

John Griggs:
Not being able to do it. That’s a big… disappointing, I guess. I mean, that’s tough. Getting told that you’re done, that’s probably the biggest fear.

Dillon Honcoop:
You remember hard years in the past?

John Griggs:
Oh, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
What have been the roughest times that you can remember?

John Griggs:
I remember my dad saying, he’s like, “We might not be able to fix this tractor.” Back when, early mid-2000s, I mean that was a tough time for orchards. Even people that had the new varieties were still, “Nobody’s buying our fruit. What do we do?” Well, everybody goes through a tough time. Even the big boys go through times. You can tell.

Dillon Honcoop:
What did that mean for your family during that time? What was that like?

John Griggs:
It brought us close. We were really close already, but we were eating dinners together trying to, “Hey, what do we do? What can I do to make things better?” Even when we owned the packing shed, we were still, “What can we do? Do we pack this variety? Do we say no?” I mean, that’s one of the tough things. No grower wants to be told “no.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, you just want to keep growing more.

John Griggs:
Yeah they’re like, “We just want to farm.” I mean some people, that’s all they’ve been doing. That’s all my family’s done, but we don’t see it any other way.

Dillon Honcoop:
You hope to have a family and kids one day and have them continue it on into the [future]?

John Griggs:
Yeah, I’d hope so, but I mean I’ll give them option, I mean it’s always here for you. But don’t just abuse it. That’s what I’ve been told.

Dillon Honcoop:
What would abusing it be?

John Griggs:
Oh just kind of, “Oh, I farm but I really don’t work,” “I have got a bunch of free time on my hands and I’m not doing anything.” That’s kind of what I see it as. That’s what my dad’s told me, playing X-Box when I’m 18 years old and, “What are you doing?” “Uh, relaxing.” “Come on, we got to go.” “Oh, no.” Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s not typically what the 18-year-old playing X-Box gets told.

John Griggs:
No, they’re like, “Okay, 15 more minutes.” No, it’s, “You’re done right now or else I’ll shut it off.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Well thank you for sharing your story, I appreciate it, and thanks for what you do. I can tell you just put everything you have into producing the fruit that you guys do here.

John Griggs:
Yeah, thank you.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food, Real People podcast. These are the stories of the people who grow your food.

Dillon Honcoop:
Talking with John and hearing that conversation again, now, just makes me want to get back into farming in some ways so much. And I don’t know if it affects other people that way. I think it’s because of my upbringing and growing up on a fruit farm. So much of that stuff just makes sense to me. But in some ways it’s part of me that’s sort of dormant, I guess.

Dillon Honcoop:
This is the Real Food, Real People podcast. I’m Dillon Honcoop, and this is kind of documenting my journeys around Washington State to get to know the real people behind our food. I loved talking with John. We’ve got a lot of really cool conversations coming up. And we really would appreciate a follow on Instagram, on Facebook, if that’s what you like to do, or on Twitter, whatever your preference is, or all of the above.

Dillon Honcoop:
Also, if you could subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts or on Spotify or whatever platform you prefer, that would really help us, too. And share these episodes, we’re trying to bring more people into the conversation and get the word out that farmers here in Washington are real people, too, and I think it’s important that we get to know them and understand the realities that they face, because we want to keep farming and farmers and farm land here in our state. And making sure that farmers have a face is, I think, important.

Dillon Honcoop:
Again, this is the Real Food, Real People podcast. Subscribe, follow us on social media, and if you want to reach out directly to me, dillon@realfoodrealpeople.org is my email address.

Announcer:
The Real Food, Real People podcast is sponsored in part by Save Family Farming, giving a voice to Washington’s farm families. Find them online at savefamilyfarming.org.

April Clayton | #002 12/23/2019

Although she has her PhD in chemistry, April Clayton is an apple and cherry farmer in Washington. But it was only after finding her voice as an advocate that she felt comfortable calling herself a farmer.

Transcript

April Clayton: I kind of resisted getting into farming at first because I didn’t want to be known as Mike’s wife. I just finished my PhD, I didn’t want to be, “Oh, the farmer… Oh, you know, his wife.” I wanted to start my own kind of career path in this area.

Announcer: This is the Real Food, Real People podcast.

Dillon Honcoop: Finding your place on the farm, it’s something that those of us who’ve been part of a family farm at one time or another have all struggled with, I think, but nobody really likes to talk about it. My name is Dillon Honcoop. I grew up on a family farm and after over a decade in media, I’m coming back to the farming community and I want to share their stories. This week on the Real Food, Real People podcast, I talk with a highly educated scientist and former college professor who now farms organic apples and cherries in central Washington. I wanted to know how she made the journey from the academic world into farming and she opens up as well about the real struggles and triumphs on the farm. So join me now as we get real with April Clayton of Red Apple Orchards in Orondo, Washington, with her farming story, and what the real challenges are right now on farms growing what is the state’s most famous food.

Dillon Honcoop: Let’s start at UC Davis.

April Clayton: Okay, so-

Dillon Honcoop: So you’re a chemist?

April Clayton: Yes, I’m a classically trained chemist. I actually have my undergraduate degree is from Florida State University in biochemistry, and then I spent a year working at Hanford, that was my first job out of college. And I did trace organic detection, and so actually there I got a lot of work and practice on gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, which is the tools that are used to test for residue on fruit and produce. So even though that’s not what I was doing, I was familiar with the concepts of how it had to be tested. And then from there I went on to university of California Davis and I got my degree in analytical chemistry.

Dillon Honcoop: What’s been the biggest challenge?

April Clayton: Finding my place on the farm, becoming the advocate. You want to get out here, you want to help, but how do you do it? How do you branch out to better inform people? It was finding the path to get started, that was difficult. I kind of resisted getting into farming at first because I didn’t want to be known as Mike’s wife. I kind of wanted my own identity away from my husband. I just finished my PhD, I didn’t want to be, “Oh, the farmer… Oh, you know, his wife.” I wanted to start my own kind of career path in this area.

Dillon Honcoop: So it was, this is interesting, it was the advocacy that brought you to the point you could fully embrace the fact that you are a farmer.

April Clayton: Oh, yeah. It wasn’t until I was in the Farm Bureau that I finally started calling myself a farmer.

Dillon Honcoop: What about the old culture of men, and farming, and sometimes Farm Bureau can be a lot of men who’ve been part of that for… How does that go?

April Clayton: The old boys club? That’s just changing more and more, especially today because farming, it’s so important for farmers to be advocates and you can see everywhere, I think it’s the women who are dominating the agricultural advocacy field right now. There are some great guys out there, but as I look around I’m seeing a lot more female agricultural advocates. So we’re really… I think women are doing great, and there are some pockets where it is still the old boys club, but here the Chelan/Douglas County Farm Bureau, I’m the president, the vice president is Vicki Malloy, our secretary treasurer is Suzanne Van Well, I mean it is… we’re female run. Yes, we have men on the board, but all the officers are female. So, yes, I understand the old boys club is still there, but just right here in my neck of the woods that’s just not the case.

Dillon Honcoop: I think that’s happening in a lot of places, too, and it’s-

April Clayton: Yeah, and like I said-

Dillon Honcoop: … a lot of people haven’t noticed that yet, but I think there’s been a big change that people haven’t noticed and it’s just starting to show that women are becoming the face of farming as much of or more than men.

April Clayton: Yes. Yes, I agree with you 100%. Yes, with females becoming the advocates.

Dillon Honcoop: When did you start trying to find that place?

April Clayton: You know, as more legislation came down, as it became harder to farm, as I could see it becoming harder to farm, it was obvious that my attention was needed here. I was having fun what I was doing, but this farm, if I want my kids to have it, I have to go out and be active in securing its future for my children’s future, so that’s why advocacy all of a sudden became so important because it’s not just my livelihood, it could possibly be my children’s livelihood. And when you start to think about it, when you start hearing more and more about different agricultural practices around the world and it made me want to get more involved to spread the message about how good we’re doing it here.

Dillon Honcoop: Much more than “Yeah, that’s what my husband does, and that’s his thing, and I have my thing.”

April Clayton: Yes. Right. Exactly. We’re a team.

Dillon Honcoop: How did you meet your husband?

April Clayton: So actually we are set up on a blind date because we’re both very tall, so…

Dillon Honcoop: Really?

April Clayton: Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop: Hey, they’re tall, [crosstalk 00:05:32] it must be a good match.

April Clayton: Exactly. So yeah, that’s what we kind of like to joke about. So yeah, and it just kind of took off from there.

Dillon Honcoop: So you meet Mike, you get married-

April Clayton: Correct.

Dillon Honcoop: … and then what did you marry into? What’s his background? What’s he doing?

April Clayton: So Mike is a second generation apple and cherry farmer. His father was retired from the air force, he was actually a Thunderbird. So he flew all over the world and when he retired, the military was offering all this wheat land to grow tree fruit on. So this, Brays Landing, used to originally be called Military Hill because it was all military personnel. And so my father in law used to help run orchards for his friends in the area and then slowly bought some, sold some, and we’re actually the last remaining military people on the hill now.

Dillon Honcoop: So how long have you guys been married?

April Clayton: 14 years.

Dillon Honcoop: And for a long time you didn’t want to really embrace the-

April Clayton: The agriculture side.

Dillon Honcoop: … the farmer title for yourself.

April Clayton: Well, I had spent 10 years in school gaining a degree in chemistry, I didn’t want to turn around and you know, okay, do what my husband’s doing. I kind of wanted to branch out on my own. And so, but I did come back to it and I’m glad I did. I mean, I love farming. It’s awesome. The farm community here is amazing too. And my advocacy has gotten me so far too that some people in some circles people are like, “Oh, you’re April’s husband.” So it’s kind of nice.

Dillon Honcoop: Turns the table on your husband, what does he say in that case?

April Clayton: Oh, he loves it. He thinks it’s great. So actually, yeah, it’s kind of funny because my son had to fill out a report, first day back at school, “What do your parents do?” “My dad farms, my mom’s the president of farming.” Like, “You go son.”

Dillon Honcoop: President of farming, Dr. April Clayton.

April Clayton: Yeah, I know I never really liked being called doctor, even when I taught, I made my students call me professor instead of doctor just because, well, that whole I’m a PhD, I’m not an MD, so there’s a difference.

Dillon Honcoop: Talking about your family too, you got kids.

April Clayton: Yes, we have two kids. John, my firstborn is nine and my daughter Johannah AKA Jojo, she is seven going on 13 as she likes to tell everybody, my son definitely, he wants to be a farmer. I don’t know if it’s because he really wants to be a farmer or he likes the idea of riding motorcycles up and down the orchard scouting. He really enjoys that. Johannah she, one day she wants to be a vet, the next day she’s going to be a singer, so she’s at that happy age right now.

Dillon Honcoop: Yeah.

April Clayton: So it’s definitely fun. They definitely enjoy the orchard and I think it’s a great lifestyle. I love the fact that what I do, at the end of the day I say, “Here, I grew this.” I mean that’s really a great accomplishment. I like that and I want to have it for my kids, something tangible that you can touch.

Dillon Honcoop: That’s interesting, your son says he wants to become a farmer and I know from experience having been that kid myself, we’ll see what happens.

April Clayton: Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop: Who knows what he decides is his calling or what he wants to do is. Your daughter, not necessarily so much.

April Clayton: Well, I think it’s because the son’s more into the big equipment, the bulldozers and things like that. And she rides, she loves her motorcycle, don’t get me wrong, but she’s not going to go crawl around the loader like he is.

Dillon Honcoop: But is there, I wonder is there kind of a gender thing going because it’s, for whatever reason, we just don’t have it as much ingrained in our head that women are, or could be, or are going to be farmers when they grow up. That’s what you are, when you grew up.

April Clayton: Right.

Dillon Honcoop: Did you see yourself being a farmer? What do you think about women in farming in particular?

April Clayton: I have to say it growing… I grew up in the city, I grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, so it’s quite urban. And so yeah, farming was actually the last thing on my mind that I even thought about. Both my parents were army brats, so coming from a military, I kind of thought that if I didn’t make it in the chemistry world that I’d probably end up in the military world somewhere because that was kind of our family, what they did. So yeah, so when I moved out here it was really different and it was definitely a culture change for sure. I enjoyed it. I went from living behind a grocery store to now being 45 minutes from the nearest grocery store, so-

Dillon Honcoop: But being the person that supplies the grocery store.

April Clayton: Yes, and being a person who supplies it. So I appreciate so much more the produce section than I ever did before. And it’s also different, how I buy food is different now. Now that I know so much about the industry, before I used to just go for whatever was pretty and cheap. Now I actually make sure that, “Hey, this was grown in the United States.” Just because I, like I said before, I deal with the regulations, the codes, and the standards, I know exactly what’s going into produce grown in the United States and that is what I want to focus on. Especially being an organic grower, people always come up and ask me, “What do you buy for your kids?” And they’re kind of shocked when I say, “Produce from the United States. I don’t care if it’s organic or not.” Conventional is just as good as long as it’s grown here.

Dillon Honcoop: Talk about organic. You guys are not entirely organic, some of your stuff is, some isn’t.

April Clayton: This is first year we’re not a hundred percent organic. Our cherries used to be organic, but this is the first year that we pulled them from organic. We were having mildew issues and the organic inputs that you use to control mildew weren’t working and we are actually damaging our tree because of the amount of sprays we are putting on to try to control the mildew.

Dillon Honcoop: Hold on, you’re saying you were spraying with organic products and that was causing harm to the trees?

April Clayton: Yes, and because of the amount that we were spraying. People don’t realize organic orchards, organic farming is just a different way of farming. It’s not actually this great all healthy star that everyone thinks of. If you look at the original, the origin of it, it started in Europe, it actually started as a way to reuse and recycle. If it was found in nature, you can use it in your orchard. No big deal. Well, when the organic movement came here to United States, it got changed into messaging, healthy, different. But that’s actually not true. Organic farming, you have to use actually a much less concentration, so you’re actually in the orchard three times more with the sprayer spraying, and just that constant being in the orchard spraying just damaged our trees, so now we’re going back to conventional so we can spray less, get the trees healthy again and we’ll go from there. If we keep production up, prices stay good, we’ll stay with it.

Dillon Honcoop: So was there a point in time where you guys decided to go organic from conventional and switch over? Has it been an organic operation from the very beginning?

April Clayton: We went all organic about 10, 20 years ago. And so he, my father-in-law, kind of dabbled in it, but nothing really. It was actually my husband who really kind of took off with it.

Dillon Honcoop: Why did he choose to do that? That’s a lot of work. Isn’t it?

April Clayton: It is. It is. It’s a lot harder to farm organic than it is conventional, just because of all the different inputs. I mean, you can’t use a herbicide, so you have to either burn weeds, or hand hoe weeds, or till weed, so it’s a lot more intense. So yeah, it is a lot more involved. But the premiums were there. Well, the premium market really isn’t there anymore for cherries, so it just didn’t make sense for us to not make as much money. If we get the trees healthy again, get production up, we’ll have more cherries, we’ll make more money.

Dillon Honcoop: So people won’t pay more for organic cherries anymore?

April Clayton: They will, but the market is so flooded with it that buyers of grocery stores aren’t willing to pay more for it. And that’s where I get my money from.

Dillon Honcoop: So what the consumer pays at the store isn’t what you get?

April Clayton: Oh no, farmers… okay, so for an organic apple, I get about between five and 10 cents. I need 9 cents to clear to be even-

Dillon Honcoop: To break even on it?

April Clayton: … to break even. 10 cents would be a little bit of a profit, that would be nice.

Dillon Honcoop: And that same Apple, what could I buy it for in the store?

April Clayton: You’re probably buying $1.99 for in the store.

Dillon Honcoop: $1.99 for the same apple that you give five to 10 cents for.

April Clayton: Correct. And this is a common of all of agriculture, farmers are typically the ones who get what’s left over, and as the cost of doing business increases, gas, transportation, employees wages going up, storage, basically we pay all along the way as it goes. We’re the last ones in the line, after the truckers get paid, after the bills are paid at the storage shed, after the bills are paid at the grocery store, then we actually get an income.

Dillon Honcoop: Why? Why don’t you say, “Sorry we’re charging more for these apples.”?

April Clayton: It’s just the way of the way the industry. It’s the way the industry works, unfortunately. The apples go the shed, they box them and make them look pretty, then they’ve got a sales desk that goes and calls and says, “Hey, how much apples would you like? We’ll send you 10,000 pounds.” And that’ll go to a distribution where it’ll get… Safeway will take it and distribute it to all their stores. We’re pretty lucky in the fact that we’ve been organic, that most of our stuff has stayed on the West Coast, but actually it’s kind of funny, this year our cherries went to Japan for the first time in a long time. So yeah, it’s kind of interesting too, because I heard that even though tariffs have affected China and stuff like that, what they buy is the premiums, the best of the best, they’re-

Dillon Honcoop: Japan?

April Clayton: Yeah, and China, all of Asia. They don’t buy the small, ugly fruit, they get the biggest, the prettiest. And our cherries actually got sold individually. But we still haven’t gotten our paycheck for the cherries yet, so we don’t even know. So hopefully around October we’ll get all of our cherry money and then hopefully in March we’ll have all of our apple money.

Dillon Honcoop: What month did you pick them?

April Clayton: July, all of July.

Dillon Honcoop: And you still don’t know, and won’t know for some time yet, how much you’re even going to get paid for them?

April Clayton: Yeah, that’s my farmers don’t gamble. We do it every day on our farm.

Dillon Honcoop: That’s crazy.

April Clayton: Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop: That’s crazy. What does that feel like? I mean, to me that says stress.

April Clayton: It’s tough. It is. For us, the stress is once we get in the shed, we get in the shed. We’re kind of, can’t really do anything about at that point, so now we just got to sit back and let it ride. So yeah, it’s tough.

Dillon Honcoop: What’s harvest like?

April Clayton: Cherry harvest is crazy because we start when the sun is up, so we’ll start as early as 4:30 in the morning. Cherries do not like do be picked after 80 degrees, after it gets 80 degrees the cherry doesn’t like to do anything, so we’ll stop harvest around noon pretty much. But it’s every day during the month of July because we are fast and furious trying to get the fruit off. We try to give our crew… the crews have the afternoons off, all the afternoons off and we try to give them one day off every two weeks, but during the month of July it just gets, we’re so backed up, we’re so short on labor that it ends up being, unfortunately, every day. But the pickers are happy because they’re making money the whole time, so they do appreciate that. And then apple harvest is much… it’s a little bit slower. It’s not such a fast pace. We have different apple varieties that are spaced out a little bit better.

Dillon Honcoop: So is there one thing or are there a few things that could knock your farm out of business, or is this more a story of which straw is going to break the camel’s back?

April Clayton: Yeah, it’s kind of… yeah, definitely losing a certification, that would hurt. If we were to ever lose our Global G.A.P certification, that would definitely be a nail in the coffin. I think it’s the small things that’s going to destroy farming. I don’t think it’s any one thing, the lack of labor is definitely an issue, the ever increasing costs just to do business. I mean, the H2A program is… I can’t even use the H2A program because it’s too expensive for me.

Dillon Honcoop: Well, let’s talk about labor a little bit because H2A, that’s a labor issue.

April Clayton: Guest worker.

Dillon Honcoop: The federal guest worker program. So what is the scoop on labor? You guys just can’t find enough people to work?

April Clayton: We can’t. And right now we’re short crew and if they don’t like the job that they’re having to do that day, or they don’t like the pay, they know they can go to the next farm over who is an H2A employee and they’ll get $15.03 an hour, so we’re having to compete with that. But I do want H2A to be here and stay here because my neighbor who uses H2A, that’s awesome, he’s bringing in guest workers. So I have a chance to actually pick up the local migrant help that wants to come and work the harvest and things like that. So you know, if H2A were to go away, we’d all be fighting for the same people and that there just isn’t enough, there is a shortage. Every year we have a labor shortage. The last time we had a full crew to pick everything we needed was eight years ago, eight or nine years ago. We were much bigger than we kind of divided off since then.

Dillon Honcoop: So you’re saying even though you aren’t in the H2A program, it helps you to have it in the local-

April Clayton: Yes.

Dillon Honcoop: … being used by local neighboring farms?

April Clayton: Right. Because there is a small pool of laborers here in Washington State. And we actually are very lucky because we have several people from Northern California that actually come to our farm every year, and we are so thankful that we have them. But if H2A were to go away, those guys, thankfully they know our farm, they’re coming back to us, but their friends may not come to us. They may jump ship and go to the shed that can offer those higher prices. Like the people who are using H2A right now, not only is it the $15 plus hourly wage, it’s also transportation to and from country of origin, living. We provide housing for our employees, but we don’t provide transportation to and from country of origin.

April Clayton: So that’s extra money that someone who uses H2A can use to bump up their cost even more, because it’s not uncommon to get into bidding wars with your neighbor to keep people. We’ve seen it locally, we’ve heard about it. Everybody on the hill pretty much pays the same price, but if someone’s down on labor and he can afford it, he’ll pay an extra 50 cents and you’ll see a couple of people jump ship and go there, and it hurts, it’s hard. But I can’t blame them, they’re going to go for that more money. And I can’t blame the other farmer for raising their wages because they need help too. It’s just, it’s a vicious cycle.

Dillon Honcoop: Some people say though, that there isn’t actually a labor shortage. If you would just pay workers more then it wouldn’t be a problem. What’s your response to that?

April Clayton: That’s just not true. As an organic grower, 75% of our cost is labor, everything from medical, to housing, to payroll, all of that included, it’s about 75% of our costs. I can’t go much higher. I can’t spend that much more. I wish I could, but I just don’t have the money in my bank. And when I hear people say, “Oh, you just want cheap later.” That just bugs me more than anything. I mean, last year just to get people to show up to pick Honeycrips, we gave people $25 if they brought someone with them, it didn’t matter if they-

Dillon Honcoop: Just as a bonus.

April Clayton: … just as a bonus. “Okay, you brought somebody with you, here, $25. Great, thanks. Here’s a bucket, go pick.” And not only was it $25, we were also paying upwards of I think 35 bucks a bin. So they were averaging closer to, the really fast guys can do a bin an hour, it’s typical a bin every two hours though is more like it.

Dillon Honcoop: So anywhere from $17, $18 bucks an hour to some people making $35 an hour?

April Clayton: And $25 just to show up that day at work-

Dillon Honcoop: Plus a bonus.

April Clayton: … first thing, yeah. I mean, no one’s coming. That’s the thing. I mean, we’re throwing all the money out there, but people just aren’t showing up. We just literally did not have people willing to come out and do the work.

Dillon Honcoop: Now about the controversial H2A federal guest worker program, you say that you like it even though you don’t use it.

April Clayton: I like that it’s there, I don’t like the policy of it. Four years ago no, five years ago now, we actually have housing on our farm that’s H2A specific because we were going to use the H2A program because we saw the shortage of labor, built it, finally got in, and it was actually right around the Hirst thing, so water was a big issue for us as well. So finally got everything done, ready to go, H2A comes back and tells us, “Yeah, that’s not going to work. We know you built it for 16 people, but that’s only going to hold 12 people.” I mean, that’s a huge hit. I mean, we built it to code and then for them to turn around-

Dillon Honcoop: And then they changed the code.

April Clayton: … change the code, it’s kind of like we would’ve had to add on another bathroom and another building. I mean, seeing as how we bought, just finished building that five years ago that has newer and better appliances and structure than my own house and I’m being told it doesn’t work. I mean, it’s very frustrating. It’s hard to deal with. True, these are bunk situations, but they’re only here for a month, they’re not staying for the whole year. Our crew that stays the whole year, they have houses that they live in on the farm, which is different from the cabins.

Dillon Honcoop: What about how the program actually works for the people that are using it? You have an interesting vantage point because you’ve almost kind of been in the program, but you aren’t now, you have people nearby who are so you can see what they do.

April Clayton: Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop: There’ve been a lot of accusations about how horrible this program is. Where does that come from and how does that fit with reality? Have you seen problems?

April Clayton: No, that just doesn’t fit with reality. I mean, we all have, like I said, we’re all regulated like you would not believe down to the bone as far as what housing looks like. If my housing was kicked out because it couldn’t, it was too small, it needed to be bigger for 16 people. I mean, when you keep changing the field gold, it makes it harder, you know? And these can… Yes, it’s hard work. We know that, we know that it’s hard work, and we try to pay them as best as we can for what we’re actually getting from the fruit. But farmers are not intentionally being mean or hurting their employees, if we do not have them, we don’t get the fruit in the shed. If we don’t get the fruit in the shed, we don’t get money.

April Clayton: We appreciate and love the help that we get. We know we can’t do it without them, so it really bothers me when I hear people saying that, oh, we’re just out there abusing them. We’re not. They’re the ones who make this farm run. We’re the ones taking the risk, they’re the ones who make it run. That’s the beauty of how it works. So I really get bugged and I don’t know where it’s coming from because it’s just not true. There are bad lawyers, there may be bad farmers, but if you’re a bad farmer, you’re not going to stay in the game very long because you’re not going to get anybody to come work for you. And the H2A program, they’ll kick you out if they think that you are being bad to employees, disrespecting them, and not giving them great living conditions, then you’ll get kicked out. It’s not like you can just go and say, “Hey, I want it.” Someone’s going to come on your farm and make sure and look to see if your housing, is it acceptable, or is it not acceptable?

Dillon Honcoop: What’s the thing on the farm that that will keep you up at night?

April Clayton: Market return prices.

Dillon Honcoop: Yeah.

April Clayton: You have no control over that, and you just have to sit there and wait because we’re currently… we currently have an operating loan, every paycheck that we sign we’re borrowing money from the bank to do that and hopefully when I get paid my cherry money in October, I’ll be able to pay off that loan and keep going again. And hopefully there’ll be enough money that I won’t have to get another loan, but unfortunately I see that’s what keeps me up at night because if I can’t pay down that first loan I’m carrying a loan and getting another one to try and start over again, I mean, that’s going to bankrupt me faster than-

Dillon Honcoop: That was like a one year loan kind of thing?

April Clayton: And operation loan is about a one year loan, basically yeah.

Dillon Honcoop: So is that pretty normal for farming?

April Clayton: It’s pretty standard for the industry to have an operation loan because I’ll all of a sudden go up to 40 employees at, $14, $15 an hour, plus payroll tax. I don’t have that money sitting in the bank. Farmers are land rich, we’re not cash rich. We don’t have that cash flow that everyone thinks we have. And one of my pet peeves is people are like, “Oh, that fifth generation farmer, he’s just sitting there on a cash pile of gold.” Well, that fifth generation farmer has probably also paid for the farm two and a half times already because of the death tax each time a generation dies.

April Clayton: In farming we’re so resilient, we don’t think we’re going to die, so we don’t need to plan. And then all of a sudden the generation goes and the next generation is hit with the death tax, which is 51%, so the kids are going to have to sell off part of the farm to help pay for that tax. And so when you think about a fifth generation farmer, that’s two and a half times they’ve already had to pay for the farm. So I don’t think people understand that, yeah, we may have inherited this, but we have paid a lot to get it.

Dillon Honcoop: I asked what will keep you up at night and you talk about market conditions, do you have any stories of having gone through that where you’re actually up at night and wondering what’s going to happen and if you’re going to make it?

April Clayton: Yeah, last year was definitely that year because we were still farming organic cherries and we had to walk away from about 30 to 40 acres because of the mildew, so this was something that we had spent all this time farming, pushing money into, we only got half the crop of what we wanted and we’re still down production, fighting to get labor. And what labor we did have, we had to pay through the nose for, and so it was kind of like, “Man, please just can we get a little bit of money to help cover that?” Because all this farming, all this paychecks I’ve been doing, those were on loans and I had to watch half my crop go bye, bye, that hurts. It’s hard. So that last year was definitely a hard year, and then in the years past hail, whenever we have hail damage, that’ll keep you up at night because there’s nothing you can do. It’s lost. And, yeah, we have insurance, but insurance never makes you whole. It helps with the damage, but it doesn’t take care of the debt that you’re in.

Dillon Honcoop: Walk away from acres and acres of cherries. What does that look like? What do you do when you walk away? You just leave them to rot?

April Clayton: Unfortunately, yeah. Unfortunately we have to, I mean, because we don’t have the labor to go in there and pick it to begin with because it’s so expensive, we’re already losing that crop. We can’t afford to pay someone to go in there, pick it, and then give it away. We’d love to do that, we’d love to give it to the food banks, and we open, we tell our friends when this happens, “Hey, come out here. Come get as many cherries as you want.” But in all reality, they’re not going to… I mean, we produce half a million pounds of cherries a year, so we’re talking about… so losing a third of our crop, that’s a lot of pounds you’re not going to be able to get rid of. You’re not going to be able to get rid of it at just giving it to your friends and you’re not going to be able to get rid of it trying to pick it going to a farmer’s market.

April Clayton: And it’s really bad for the trees too, because if you have old fruit that’s sitting on there rotting, it stresses the tree out, so it’s not going to be as in good production for next year. And you’ve got this fruit that is now the perfect breeding ground for bad bugs. So it’s a very bad situation to be in, you’re just, you’re in knots because you’re like, “Okay, I lost this year’s crop. How much of next year’s crop did I lose too by not being able to take care of my trees properly by getting the fruit off them?” And I’m leaving this fruit in there that could potentially damage my crop next year by breeding bad bugs, so it’s a vicious cycle.

Dillon Honcoop: Yeah. You said you’re in knots, what does that really… what does it feel like when you’re there?

April Clayton: You’re in bed and you can’t sleep because your mind keeps running over other things. “Well, how am I going to pay for this? Well, what am I going to do for that? Well, how am I going to cover this for tomorrow, and if I can’t pay for this spray…” And that’s the other thing, these chemicals we use are highly concentrated and highly expensive. They’re not cheap. We’re not out there just throwing them around willy nilly because we think it’s great. No, we’ve got this, you know, like my husband always says, “You measure it with a micrometer and you unfortunately have to cut it with an ax.” So we’re doing as many calculations as we can to save money, to not overuse chemicals when you don’t have to, but unfortunately, these things cost money. And if you can’t afford that spray at that time, like calcium is important for apples because we get bitter pits.

April Clayton: Bitter pits are those, they’re little black dots in the center of an Apple. It goes through pretty far. So it’s not really good for processing either, because you can’t just peel it and get rid of it.

Dillon Honcoop: That’s from a lack of calcium?

April Clayton: It’s a lack of calcium in the soil. And sometimes calcium can bind together in the soil, and so you may get this reading of, “Oh yeah, you’ve got calcium.” But it’s just not being… the tree just can’t absorb it. So there’s all these other issues you have to think of and you’re sitting there worrying about that, so not being able to afford something could put you in danger for next year’s crop. So you just sit there and you’re like, “Oh man, what do you do?”

Dillon Honcoop: Yeah, there’s nothing that you can do-

April Clayton: No.

Dillon Honcoop: … except in a lot of cases feel awful. And I know that can put, having lived through these kinds of things in the kind of farming I grew up around, I know it can put so much pressure on everything else, relationships, around the house, other decisions that aren’t necessarily even directly connected.

April Clayton: You know, I have a friend who jokes every July that she becomes a cherry widow because her husband’s gone during the entire cherry harvest, so she’s kind of like a widow at home waiting, hopefully hubby will come because he’s out there working. And so I understand that, and luckily I’m on the farm and can help out and work too. I mean, one year there’s a picture of me pregnant with my son on the backpack behind me and I’m sitting there in the field hosing down bins of cherries, writing tickets for everybody. So thankfully it’s a family business where we can work together, but it is stressful. It can be stressful at times for sure. I mean, like I said before, that’s why farmers don’t gamble, we do it every day.

Dillon Honcoop: You do a lot of social media. What’s that like? Is that a positive experience to be out there in public that way? She’s shaking her head no.

April Clayton: No. Yeah, no. Social media is tough, I got to tell you it because I do kind of take it a little personally when I read people saying, “Oh my gosh, you are so bad. You’re not paying your laborers anything. You’re treating them horribly.” And it’s like, “No, that’s not the case. They’re actually… we’re trying to give them a decent wage.” There’s been, I don’t think people realize, there are times when we don’t take home a pay check to make sure that this is covered, that’s very common for owners and I don’t think people realize that. And plus we don’t have a, like you said, we only get paid once a year. Once harvest is in, is in, and that’s our paycheck. And we don’t always know what it’s going to be, we can’t calculate it out, so it’s definitely a tough field.

April Clayton: And so to have people on social media just sit there and trash you for it, is hard. Yeah. And I mean, sometimes, especially with social media today, because it’s no longer, “Oh well, I don’t think that’s right.” Blah, blah, blah. It’s like, “Oh, you’re a terrible person.” I mean, they can get downright insulting, so it is tough and it hurts because I have some friends that aren’t quite so much friends anymore because they think I’m a slave owner.

Dillon Honcoop: Really?

April Clayton: Well no, they just, they’re like, “Your employees…” They just, they believe what they’ve been told and it’s like, “No, come to my farm, come talk to them.” You know?

Dillon Honcoop: But they’re your friends. They don’t know your character?

April Clayton: I mean, they know my character and they know me, but you know, they’re the activists who have their belief system. It’s hard to change someone’s mind who is ingrained, “That’s the way it is.” But I am lucky because a lot of my friends who do know me, they’re like, “Oh wow, I had no idea. That’s amazing.” So it is fun, and I am thankful for my good friends who… and I actually have a couple friends who have become agricultural advocates, not because they have a farm, but because they find what I do so fascinating. And so that’s always, that’s positive and I appreciate that, but it’s the negative Nancys on social media that just kind of wear you down.

Dillon Honcoop: So you’ve actually lost friends because of the false things, the false accusations, that activists have made about you?

April Clayton: Well, it’s not like all of a sudden they stopped talking to me, but it’s like I can tell you’re not following me on social media anymore. I can tell. And it’s sad because it’s actually a couple of family members and I think also it kind of, in today’s political climate too, it’s easier to go for a dagger than it is for a handshake.

Dillon Honcoop: Well, thank you for opening up and telling your whole story. Fascinating your journey from Tallahassee, Florida to here in Orondo, Washington, and all points in between.

April Clayton: Well, Dillon, thank you for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity you’ve given me here today.

Dillon Honcoop: This was really cool, and thanks for showing me around your farm as well. It’s really cool what you guys are doing here, so-

April Clayton: Thank you. Come back anytime.

Dillon Honcoop: … keep up the good work.

April Clayton: Thanks.

Announcer: This is the Real Food, Real People podcast. These are the stories of the people who grow your food.

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