Chelan Fresh is proud to represent the growers of Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan counties in Washington State. In the coming months we will regularly introduce them to you in our “Meet the Grower” series. Check in regularly with our blog – To The Core - to find out what’s happening in the orchards that produce some of Washington’s Finest Mountain Grown Fruit.
Chelan Fresh: Hi Richard, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today.
Richard Thomason: No problem, it’s my pleasure.
CF: Let’s dive right in, shall we? Where’s your orchard located?
RT: Well, there are three orchards in total. The first is located on Brewster Flat and the other two are above the Chief Joseph Dam.
CF: Wonderful. What fruit do you grow there?
RT: I grow cherries as well as Gala, Granny Smith and Honeycrisp apples.
CF: How did you become a grower?
RT: My father’s been in the growing business since the 1960’s. I was a mining engineer working all over the Pacific Northwest and Alaska when he asked me if I wanted to try my hand at the family business for a year. I said yes and came down to work in the orchard. That year my wife and I got pregnant with our first child and I decided to stay put in Brewster so I could spend more time with my family. There was so much travel involved in my engineering job, not great for raising a child. It’s 45 years later and I’m still here.
CF: How many kids do you have?
RT: I’ve raised 4 wonderful kids. Now I’m a grandfather with 9 grandchildren and two more on the way!
CF: Have your children joined you in the orchard?
RT: Haha, we’re still in discussion about that happening. Two of my kids are back living in the area but they already have successful careers of their own.
CF: How is the growing season looking to you?
RT: Well, this is my 45th abnormal year! Meaning that every single year is abnormal, no two growing seasons are the same. That said, this year is starting out great with lots of buds. I mostly look at the quantity and quality of the buds.
CF: What challenges do you face as a grower?
RT: Honeycrisps are the most finicky variety to grow; they are susceptible to anything that an apple variety can get. Also, I like to adopt new varieties. I have always been a pioneer in that way and I’ve often been one of the first growers to adopt a new variety, sometimes in the state. But when you change varieties it means something needs to be ripped out and you are out of income for a few years until the next crop produces, which is about three years from planting.
CF: So what’s next for you?
RT: My orchards are at their peak productivity now, so I am going to sit back and see what happens with the new varieties for a while.
CF: Do you have a favorite variety of apple to eat?
RT: I’d have to say that Honeycrisp is my favorite, then Granny Smith.
CF: Do you have a favorite apple recipe?
RT: You know, my youngest daughter just started cooking a lot with apples. She’s coming to visit soon and she promised she would make her new recipes for me. I’ll try them out and let you know which is my favorite!
CF: What do you do when you’re not in the orchard?
RT: I like to be involved in my community and industry. I was instrumental in the formation of the Loup Loup Ski Education Foundation and its eventual purchase of the assets and Conditional Use Permit from the US Forest Service. I oversaw the construction and financing of the quad chairlift that has been used and enjoyed by many thousands of visitors. I also have a long history of being involved with the Washington fruit industry. I was a longtime board member and chairman of the Okanogan Horticultural Association.
I raced off-road motorcycles for 25 years until I got hurt and stopped. More recently, my partner Ed Tradup and I built a racecar to run on the Bonneville Salt Flats. So far, my fastest record is a little over 340 mph. Now we’re building a new car that we hope will run over 400 mph!