Five Generations of Fruit Growing

Posted in Blog, Farming on Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The Griggs family has been growing fruit on the banks of the Columbia River for more than 100 years.

Five Generations of Fruit Growing

IN THE TINY TOWN OF ORONDO, nestled beside the Columbia River with stunning views of the Cascades, a picturesque family farm has been cultivated and owned by the same family for five generations.

One summer day, rows of pear, apple, and cherry trees shimmered in the bright sunshine across Griggs Farms' nearly 300 acres. Standing in the shade of one of the cherry trees, CEO and General Manager John Griggs reflected on the farm's history, which his great-great-great-grandfather began as a homestead in the late 1800s.

"I'm born into it," Griggs said. "You want to be the one that can just keep passing it on. There's a lot of pressure, and there's not a lot of farms that are fifth generation — it's a long time."

Griggs counted on his fingers as he listed the cherry varieties growing on the farm, which include Tieton, Santina, Black Pearl, Skeena, Sweetheart, Rainier, Bing, and the farm's proprietary variety: the Orondo Ruby, which was discovered and patented by Griggs' father, Marcus.

"They're special," Griggs said. "It was just a chance mutation my dad saw driving around the blocks."

After patenting the cherry — which includes taking DNA samples to make sure it's actually a new variety — the family began cultivating the Orondo Ruby on the farm, which Griggs said now grows more than 80 acres of just that variety. The Orondo Ruby is said to be sweeter and more acidic than the Rainier cherry, another Washington variety, with smoother, firmer skin, and it stays fresh longer than the Bing cherry.

Whatever the variety, Griggs loves them all; cherries are one of his favorite fruits.

"I don't think anything really beats a good cherry," he said, adding that his personal favorite is the Bing, followed by the Rainier. "And I just like to eat them off the tree."

Cherries have a short growing season, and despite so many technological advances in farming, they are still harvested by hand. Griggs said the farm employs 150 pickers to harvest the fruit when it is ripe, many of whom come back year after year. He said he wants to make sure the farm is still here for generations to come.

"Sustainability, to me, is being able to carry on generation to generation," he said. "We're good stewards of the land."

Griggs said Washington is a great place to grow cherries, partially because the state has so many microclimates.

"The weather here is great," he said. "We live in a rain shadow, so we don't get a lot of rain. We're on the Columbia River, so it keeps it a little bit cooler during the day, and there's not as much wind here. It's just a good place to grow."

And from good land and good climate come delicious cherries for a precious few weeks each summer.

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