Brownfield Orchard, Chelan, WA
Orchardist John Brownfield was one of the founding members of Tilth Producers of Washington. He helped pioneer organic tree fruit certification standards, and his orchard was one of the first farms to be certified organic when the Washington State Department of Agriculture initiated the Organic Food Program in 1988.
Located on the slopes of the Cascade foothills northeast of Chelan, Brownfield Orchard’s 46 acres of certified organic apples, pears and stone fruits overlook the Columbia River Valley. John’s father and grandfather farmed in the Chelan area since the early 1900s, but when he took over the orchard he chose to adopt organic growing practices to reduce the use of toxic chemicals.
John’s son Mike returned to the orchard in 1990 after graduating from WSU and he has continued the family tradition of organic fruit production. Over the past twenty years Mike has helped increase the varieties of fruit grown in the orchard and diversify their marketing strategies.
Apple’s continue to be the farm’s primary crop. Gala and Honeycrisp are two of their most popular varieties, but Mike and Lynne Brownfield also grow Braeburn, Fuji, Ginger Gold, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Sansa, and Zestar.
Pears have also long been an important part of the orchard. In fact, the oldest block of trees includes three acres of D’Anjou and an acre of Bartlett pears. Planted in 1974, the trees are still generously productive after nearly four decades of organic management.
For many years most of the family’s apples and pears were sold to Chelan packing houses for wholesale distribution. By the late 1990s, however, lower wholesale prices and a damaging hailstorm forced the Brownfields to consider new marketing strategies.
Given the steadily increased demand for organically grown fruit, they decided to take on the challenge of direct marketing to food co-ops from Olympia to Bellingham.
Expanding into direct marketing required investing in their own packing line and two large cold storage rooms, and it prompted the planting of cherries, apricots, nectarines, and peaches to increase the range of products available.
The added effort of direct marketing has had multiple benefits. In addition to greater financial returns, having their own packing line and storage helps reduce packaging costs and allows for greater control over the quality of their fruit. And having a wider variety of fruits ripening through the season enables the Brownfields to extend their marketing season from cherries in July through late-season apples in March.
Today the Brownfields direct market 50% of their cherries, 100% of their stone fruits, and about 30% of their apples and pears. Stemilt Growers, a major packing house in Wenatchee that is very supportive of organic farmers, distributes their wholesale fruit.
The Brownfield family’s long history of premium fruit production, direct marketing strategies, and state-of-the-art growing practices have enabled Brownfield Orchard to continue to be one of the premier organic farms in the state.