From Parks to Pits

Camera Pictures 268In 2001, I had finished up my career with Washington State Parks as the Washington Conservation Corps Coordinator on our side of the state. This is where I met and married my husband Harry. He was about to retire as the manager of Sun Lakes State Park.

It was during this transition from parks that we purchased the small cherry orchard that I helped plant as a child. Harry had never been exposed to fruit tree farming, and I recall how comical it was when he announced that he needed to go and “trim” the cherry trees. The term “pruning” was not even a part of his vocabulary at that point. On his retirement cake it read “from Parks to the Pits.” It wasn’t long before we found ourselves at the orchard in the pits of not knowing where to start.

I thought I knew a lot about agriculture. After all, my dad owned both a cherry and an apple orchard. I grew up in an agricultural community surrounded by apple orchards. Tests taken in high school determined that agriculture is the career I should go into, (although I didn’t until this time). So it was late fall and we needed to start pruning our 1,100 trees. Harry got up on the 12’ ladder, (our trees were old, not recently pruned and were about 14-15’ tall). I directed him on where to cut utilizing the chain saw. An hour later, we stepped back to admire our work, and our first tree looked just like an apple tree! Okay, so I didn’t mention that other than planting, our family had not actually worked the orchard…instead it was hired out.

It was the most horrible winter I have ever experienced. We cut and cut and didn’t have a clue. But after cutting, we then had giant limbs and tree tops that needed to be picked up…7 ½ Acres worth! We didn’t have a tractor with front forks, so we were loading that heavy wood by hand into a trailer. We also unloaded it by hand onto the burn pile. Thank God for the help we got from some wonderful friends Andrew & Jen, as well as Harry’s son, daughter and son-in law. It was never ending but finally completed. Our blossoms that spring were far and few between and our cherries were sparse. The cost to farm was not what I remembered from doing the bookkeeping in the late 1970’s. Throughout this time we asked “WHAT DID WE GET OURSELVES INTO??!!.

But God is good. That was our turn around and this is why I am so grateful to be a farmer. That winter I contacted Northern Fruit Company…wonderful people! Jerry knew we had no experience at farming, but he took us on anyway. He sent Tim out to be our field man and guide. Tim stood side by side with Harry as he taught him where to cut and how to prune. Another farmer, Pat who owned the warehouse adjacent to our orchard, went out of his way to help us wherever possible. He directed us to Northwest Wholesale. Their field man was sent out to test our soils, leaves, bark, etc… to determine the health of our trees and what would be needed to bring them around. When it came time for harvest, we were put in touch with Victor who provided our picking crew. The heat was incredible, so our friend Pat also gave us access to his CA building to store our fruit until we could get it in to Northern each afternoon.

So many people helped us out, “farmers helping farmers”. I was just beginning to see the community we had joined. Our lives were changing. What seemed hopeless, through the help of our friends old and new became a blessing. That is only the beginning of our tale and there is so more to follow. Until then, I am wishing you all blessings and hope as you follow your own journey in life.

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