The editors of American/Western Fruit Grower were blown away with the number of nominees for this year’s Apple Grower of the Year. This year’s winner, Cordell Watt of Timber Ridge Fruit Farm LLC in Gore, VA, was one among many worthy candidates. Information for the finalists comes directly from those who nominated them.
Hillcrest Orchards, Amherst, OH
Bill sets a high standard for service to the fruit growing industry. Besides operating a fruit farm, he serves on the board of the International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA), is the current chairman of USApple, president of the Ohio Fruit Growers Marketing Organization, program director of the Ohio Apples Marketing Program, and executive director of the Premier Apple Cooperative. In the past year, he assumed the role of executive director of the Midwest Apple Improvement Association, and in this role has shepherded the introduction of the organization’s first release, EverCrisp, using an innovative “managed open” release. This marketing mechanism is being reviewed around the world as a possible strategy to commercialization of new fruit varieties. The breeding program is supported while all growers have access to the new material. This is a pleasant and needed change from the recent trend of proprietary varieties. It is his leadership in this return to altruism that motivates me to nominate him for this recognition.
Brookdale Fruit Farm, Hollis, NH
Elwin Hardy passed away at the age of 92 on Jan. 23, 2013, but his legacy and examples as a leader in the industry continue with his son Charles Hardy and his grandsons, Trevor and Tyler. Elwin, past president of Brookdale Fruit Farm Inc. located in Hollis, NH, was the fourth-generation leader of the family farm, started in 1847. Brookdale is the largest commercial apple farm in New Hampshire. Elwin was a commercial member of the New Hampshire Fruit Growers Association and the New England Apple Association. He was one of the founding members of IFTA and recently received the 2013 Outstanding Industry Service Award at the annual conference. Elwin served as chairman of the rootstock research committee for 21 years, was the first to plant dwarf apple trees in New England in the late 1950s, and was involved in trial dwarf tree plantings with the University of New Hampshire.
Mountain View Orchards, Corvallis, MT
You can say “Charlie grew up with an apple in his mouth.” Charlie is a leader who is recognized and respected. His business was one of 100 named a Blue Ribbon Small Business Award winner for 2013 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He is a third-generation Bitterroot Valley native whose family has been growing apples since 1907 and has been providing excellent quality and a diverse selection of apples primarily focusing on McIntosh, a traditionally tough variety to provide in commercial quantities with any quality. Charlie is also an active community member engaging in outreach, actively engaged with the local chamber of commerce as well as the Montana Extension office. He operates his orchard in the Bitterroot Valley at high elevation and is essentially an industry unto himself doing all the growing, pruning, harvesting, cold storage, grading, pressing of cider, marketing, and delivering of the apples out of his own family-run facility.
Bob and Eric Brown
Orchard Dale Fruit, Waterport, NY
Eric and his brother, Bob, have been farming apples, peaches, cherries, and berries all their lives on a pioneering family farm that was carved from the wilderness more than 200 years ago. The brothers have not rested on that heritage, however. Eric’s primary responsibility is maintaining the 200 acres of apples. Orchard Dale Fruit LLC, the apple portion of the business, has been at the forefront of orchard innovation. Eric may not be outspoken, but he is a regular at local Extension meetings and served on the Cornell Cooperative Extension Board. He has been an eager innovator and a willing partner with researchers trying new varieties and pruning/trellising systems. Eric’s exceptional horticultural management have enabled them to be one of a handful of growers to trial SweeTango and other varieties coming out on a limited basis. The Browns are partners in the Lake Ridge Fruit packinghouse, in a desire to be more vertically integrated, as well as running their own farmstand and agritainment business, which is Bob’s sphere. Bob has served in many areas of agriculture community, including a long tenure on the board of Farm Credit. Bob and Eric’s leadership in their industry is widely recognized, though they are humble and deeply involved in the daily workings of their farm and market.