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 checked in with Mallory Carlton. She and her family operate an entrepreneurial farm and business out of Okanagan.
Chelan Fresh (CF): Hi Mallory, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us.
Mallory Carlson (MC): Of course, it’s my pleasure.
CF: Could you please start by telling us about your farm?
MC: Sure. The main orchard is in Okanagan, it’s a fourth-generation family farm on my husband’s side. We run a fruit stand as well that his grandfather started and that we took over in 2002. It’s on the same property there. But we have 12 different locations scattered across Okanagan. We have about 100 acres now, combining what we own and what we lease. We grow apples and pears as well as cherries, peaches, nectarines, plums… We’ve got a four-acre garden and greenhouse so we operate that as well – I do the seed work in the spring – where we grow cantaloupes, watermelon, that kind of thing.
CF: What is the set up like?
MC: My husband is the one who manages the orchards but I’ve helped plant them, I’ve helped do irrigation lines, managing a crew to put in new irrigation for the orchards. So I support however I can, whether it’s manual labor or the book work, people work, payroll, all the fun stuff that’s part of the business.
CF: Do you have kids that are old enough to work in the orchards?
MC: We’ve got two boys, one is 12 and one is 9 years old. We’ve also got another child on the way. The boys help a lot, especially at the fruit stand and in the kitchen of our restaurant that we run out of the fruit stand. They’ve been born and raised in it for sure and they’re more and more helpful as they get older, going from crawling around in the greenhouse when they were little to being out in the orchards.
CF: Do you think they’ll take over the family business one day?
MC: Ultimately, it’ll be their decision to make but we would love to know that it’s something that they would want to continue. My eldest says that he wants to take over the fruit stand and he’s very business minded like his father, so we’ll see. It’s hard to know, through us they see both the challenges and rewards of being in the farming industry. We keep expanding, growing our operation and working hard to lead by example in the hopes that it’s something that they’ll want to take over and run one day.
CF: Earlier, you mentioned a restaurant. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
MC: Sure. We have a couple of hired cooks and I do the baking, like cookies and breads, that kind of thing. The restaurant has been a newer addition to our business and it’s already coming into its seventh year now. We worked hard to build it so that we could bring some tourism onsite to the farm. We have a big deck with outdoor seating that a lot of people enjoy to get a little bit of a farm experience. We’re seasonal, so we close at the end of October and open again in the Spring.
CF: Wow, between helping with the orchards, running the fruit stand, baking for the restaurant, managing admin and people… you take on a lot of different jobs! You play a very significant role in your family’s business.
MC: Haha! Well, the business really is a partnership. We work really well together, it’s nice.
CF: What are your thoughts and feelings around being a woman in this traditionally male-dominated industry?
MC: You know, it’s something I take great pride it and that I enjoy a lot. It’s a subject my husband and I discuss together. Farming is a tough industry and we mustn’t be afraid to adapt and make changes along the way.
CF: Do you know if your next child is another boy?
MC: Actually, it’s a girl!
CF: Wonderful, congratulations! Is there anything you would do differently with your daughter than you did with your sons to pass on your love of the family business?
MC: It’s funny, we’ve actually talked about that and no we won’t do anything different. I think she can grow up to learn the same thing as the boys. We believe in a hard work ethic, you know, do your job and be responsible. I just want her to know that there are options out there and that we can help give her a start in the industry if that’s what she chooses to do. Nothing is off the table.
CF: Tell us about some of the challenges you’re facing at the moment.
MC: Financially, things are costing more to operate, whether it the farm or the fruit stand. We’re always thinking about how we can stay at the forefront and not fall behind. You have to make smart decisions, including which apple varieties to plant in the orchards and knowing when it’s time to get out of certain ones. It’s the same with our leases, you’ve got to know what’s a right fit and what can be profitable.
CF: What do you think the future looks like for the fruit farming industry?
MC: Right now, it’s tough. Again, it’s coming down to being in the right varieties and knowing when to get out of certain varieties. This is especially true for the apple industry. Changing varieties takes years so you need to be always be looking to the future. It’s important to stay open to new ideas, new ways of farming. Innovation can be scary but it’s doable. It certainly keeps you on your toes.
CF: Let’s finish with something light. What is your favorite recipe that uses your fruit?
MC: Apple pie is always a classic!