At Terra Organics, we value the relationship between growers and your kitchen table, which is why every producer we source from is carefully selected and is of the highest quality in produce and management. As part of our Featured Grower series, this month,Terra Organics is pleased to share with you an interview with Jeanette and Jeff Herman of Cliffside Orchard. Thanks to Jeanette and Jeff for taking time to fill us in!
Tell us the story of how Cliffside Orchard was founded.
In the seventies, Jeff and I had worked for a number of years in the Wenatchee Valley in conventionally run fruit orchards. After growing tired of the experience of working in chemically laden orchards, we had decided we that we wanted to grow fruit ourselves and do it organically, if at all possible. I had already become familiar with growing vegetables organically while living in northern California so why not tree fruit. In 1978, we started looking for land in more isolated regions of Eastern Washington that had potential for growing pure fruit.
We came upon the upper Columbia region in northeastern Washington and noticed there were a few orchards so we looked at the area a bit more closely. The region was 40 miles south of the Canadian border and 60 west of the Idaho border. Also, it was remote and we wouldn’t have to worry about spray drift, just what we were looking for. We eventually bought a 40 acre piece of land that had been part of a 480 acre ranch. Much of our land was forest but we carved out a 7 acre plot that had been an alfalfa field and in 1982 planted 700 trees of various types of fruit and founded Cliffside Orchard. The orchard has an amazing view and overlooks Lake Roosevelt.
How has Cliffside grown and changed over the years?
We have started out as 7 acres and maintain the same amount of acreage. We have slightly under a thousand trees now because we planted the trees more closely together. We originally had pears and apples with a few cherries, peaches, and apricots. Since then we have taken out pears and added more peaches and nectarines and a few plums. Jeff and I feel that 7 acres is about all we want to handle. We only have to hire a few people seasonally and the rest we manage ourselves.
When we began, there were very few organic orchards and organic fruit was in high demand in the wholesale market. And the prices were reasonable. It was an easy way to sell the fruit while raising kids but we just had to get it to the wholesaler. As more and more farms became organic the wholesale prices started to fall and we had to come up with a new plan. We didn’t like the idea of selling our fruit to places who could not put a face on our fruit.
We had sold at a few farmers markets before and liked the idea of talking to folks about organic and who we were and what our farm was about. We wanted to see the people who were buying our fruit. We also liked the idea of selling directly to the store or business so they knew who we were as well.
We started out as 80% wholesale 20% direct and now we are 80% direct and 20% wholesale. So we have gone through a tremendous change in how we do business and enjoy it much more.
What are some of the things that Cliffside prides itself on?
We can truly say that our fruit is organic. We started out that way 28 years ago and continue to use organic, sustainable methods of farming.
We also pride ourselves in providing tree ripe fruit of the highest quality and stand behind our product.
What do you grow?
We grow cherries, apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines, pears, and apples.
What do you supply Terra Organics?
Terra buys apricots, peaches, pears, and apples from us. Typically they purchase goldrich apricots, red haven peaches, bosc or d’anjou pears, and macintosh apples. We don’t really have volume in our other varieties of fruit which is necessary for Terra to supply their customers.
How can people get more involved with Cliffside?
Anyone is welcome to stop by for a visit. Maybe spend a day helping or observing. We always enjoy hearing from people via email.
What’s the best part about working at Cliffside?
It is wonderful to have the freedom to be our own boss. Making the decisions can be risky yet exciting. It’s also nice to be able to be outside and not be confined to an office. But the really best part is eating the fruit. I look forward to the first bite of whatever is ripe at the time.
Where else can we find Cliffside Orchard produce?
We sell at farmers markets in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. We sell to Terry’s Berries and the Green Market in Ballard. We have been selling at the University Market and the West Seattle Market but that is yet to be determined this year due to decrease in fruit volume as a result of the weather.
What’s the one thing that everyone should know about Cliffside Orchard?
That we have been organic from the start. We planted on fallow ground and our
orchard is surrounded by forest. Our fruit is about as clean as you can get.
What’s one fruit people should eat more of?
What should every consumer of organic produce in general know?
That it is important to buy organic but to know where that organic produce comes from. People should also ask lots of questions about the produce they are purchasing. For example, how long has the farm been organic?
You can find an array of photos on our web site. www.cliffsideorchard.com