Many of the orchards in Chelan valley are a family affair, with women playing a critical role in running smooth operations and growing the business. In our new blog series “Women Growers of Chelan” we sit down with them to discuss their roles and thoughts on the industry.
This month we check in with Cory Colbert. She and her husband Jim own Jim Colbert Orchards LLC in the Chelan area. In addition to helping Jim with the orchard, Cory has a full time job at Chelan Fruit.
Chelan Fresh: Hi Cory, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Why don’t you start by telling me what you do at Chelan Fruit?
Cory Colbert: Sure, I am the purchasing manager in the accounting department. I do a lot of different things but, mainly, I work with the managers to order supplies and manage the invoicing, purchase orders, that sort of thing.
CF: In addition to your job at Chelan Fruit you help Jim run your orchard, what is your role in your orchard business?
CC: I handle our payroll, sign up the workers for harvest and do all the paperwork for that process, which is a big job! There’s a lot of paperwork these days. I also buy supplies for the orchard, make sure the tickets are ready during harvest and help Jim with whatever he needs. Being a smaller operation its more economical if we do as much as we can by ourselves.
CF: What about this time of year, in the winter months?
CC: This time of year there is nothing going on so we don’t have a full crew, which means I help Jim do what needs to get done. But I’m pretty lucky that I can pick and choose what I want to do for the most part, and I don’t do pruning in cold weather!
CF: As a small family run operation how to you continue to stay viable in an industry filled with larger operations?
CC: We grew late season cherries for 20 years, but so many bigger orchards have also started growing them. It was no longer profitable for us, so we decided to switch to apples. As farmers we are constantly looking at what keeps us viable in the industry. We have to consider what will grow here as well as what will be popular with consumers. A lot of thought goes into the operation. Jim and I talk it out together but he’s really the most knowledgeable about growing. He’s the green thumb in the family!
CF: How many acres do you have currently, and what varieties are you growing?
CC: We have around 27 acres of Honey Crisps, Galas, Sugar Bees, and the new variety Red Flesh. Our largest apple orchard is in upper Union Valley, and our new planting of apples will be in Cagle Gulch. We’re also slowly changing our apples over to organic and have one variety that will be organic in the 2018 crop year. Growing fruit is a constantly evolving operation. It’s not a “plant it and forget it” sort of thing.
CF: What are your plans for 2018?
CC: This next year Jim and I with be working on installing the irrigation for our new planting. We’re also in the process of finishing new housing for 16 workers which will be a great help during harvest time.
CF: This seems like a lot of work on top of a full time job! When you do find the time to work in the orchard?
CC: I do this on the weekends and after work. It started out as a hobby really and grew into a business. I don’t mind it though, I feel like we’re being a steward for the earth in a way. I get to put trees in the ground and watch them grow over the years. It gives me a sense of pride. I have been Jim’s assistant since high school so I guess if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t still be doing it! It has been a lifelong adventure for us, I really don’t think of it as work anymore. It’s just what it takes to keep this place running.
CF: The photo you gave us was from the PMA convention in New Orleans, what were you up to down there?
CC: Every year at Chelan Fruit’s annual growers banquet they choose the top apple growers for each variety and we won a trip to this year’s PMA which was donated by Chelan Fresh! Jim and I enjoyed the trip and learned a lot about the industry. I didn’t realize there were so many varieties of apples, and from all over the world too!
CF: Thank you Cory for your time and I hope you and Jim have a successful year ahead!
CC: Thank you!