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 blog series “Women in Agriculture” we sit down with them to discuss their roles and thoughts on the industry.
This month we spoke with Gwynne Godwin of Box Canyon Fruit in the Okanogan Valley.
Chelan Fresh (CF): Hello Gwynne and thanks for speaking with us today. Could you please start by telling us a bit about your orchard?
Gwynne Godwin (GG): Sure thing. We have orchards in Tonasket, with a total of 250 acres over numerous plots of land. We grow many different varieties of cherries, apples and pears.
CF: Is this a family business? How did you get involved?
GG: My husband grew up in the Okanogan Valley since his parents came here from Texas when he was 2 years old to farm. This is a second-generation farm on my husband’s side, but it’s new to me; I came here 17 years ago.
CF: How did you decide to move here?
GG: Well, I was born and raised in Tacoma WA. I met my husband when he worked at Boeing. He always wanted to come back to the farm, so we moved here 17 years ago. I was a city girl and followed my husband from the city to the country!
CF: Did he take over the farm from his family?
GG: No, when we first started we bought a 30-acre piece of land from his parents’ orchard. Then over the years we gradually built up to the 250 acres that we lease and own today. We’ve had our ups and downs, but we’ve never gone hungry and have always had a roof over our heads. We feel very blessed.
CF: Do you have children involved in the operation?
GG: We have 3 children and our oldest daughter just moved back this spring to come and help on the farm. She started out with the book work and is now helping during harvest when we need “all hands on deck”. We have another daughter in college in Texas who will graduate in December. Our son will be 13 soon and he helps out as well during harvest time. It’s very much a family business!
CF: Can you tell us about your role in operation?
GG: Well, I do a little bit of everything all year long, but I’m mainly the “people person” who makes sure everyone gets where they need to be. During cherry season I’m out in the field every single day with our crew, doing quality control and making sure everyone has what they need to get the job done smoothly. I think it’s really important for someone in the family to be out there each day with the crew so they know that we care and that we’re there for them.
CF: Have you always played this role?
GG: When we started out I did a little of everything: I rode tractor, mowed grass, helped plant trees, moved bins… I can even use a forklift. I learned how to do everything because we started out small and did all of the work ourselves. Since we’ve grown I don’t have to do so much of the heavy lifting, but I am very much involved in the day to day operations as well as the decision making.
CF: Growing is still quite a male dominated sector. What are your thoughts on women in the industry? What does the future hold?
GG: I think it’s very important for women to get involved in the operations because we are the consumers (since most women do the shopping in the family) and we know what’s in the stores and we understand what’s on the other side of the business. I would like to see more young women become farmers themselves. It’s hard work but it can be done. It’s really nice to partner with someone as well. I’m behind the scenes much of the year but we are partners in this life. I don’t look at farming as a business, I see it as a lifestyle.
CF: Is that what you hope your daughter will do now that she’s home?
GG: I’m not sure how her role will evolve as time goes on. My husband and I have an exit plan for our future and hope that our children will work together to keep the business going. We’d like to see her become a big part of it. If she wants to get a piece of land herself that would be great too. But, that is up to them and only time will tell!
CF: Do you have time to enjoy your fruit yourself?
GG: Yes, I love to be in the kitchen when I’m not busy with the harvest! I use our fruit in my baking and also do a lot of canning. I make apple sauce, jelly and jams. And, of course apple crisp which is my husband’s favorite dessert!