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 Paige Hake the daughter of organic grower Orlin Knutson. Their family orchard is located in Mattawa Washington, about an hour northeast of Yakima.
Chelan Fresh (CF): Hi Paige, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. Can you please tell us a little bit about your family’s business?
Paige Hake (PH): Yes, I grew up on my family’s organic orchard in Mattawa, WA. Right now there are about 250 acres of organic apples, cherries, peaches and nectarines. We’re doing some new planting, so there’ll be about 800 acres by the end of the year. This has been quite a big step so it was a good time for me to come on board and help.
CF: Your family’s business is organic, how did that come about?
PH: My dad, Orlin Knutson, started farming in the early 70’s. He was one of the first in the community to grow organic. He has always been interested in doing what’s best for the environment. He’s been a real inspiration to me, and I’m always tagging along, asking him questions, trying to figure out why he’s doing what he’s doing. My father is also a managing partner at Columbia Valley Fruit, that’s how we’re connected to Chelan Fresh.
CF: What is your role in the family business?
PH: I have only been involved in the orchard a couple of months now. Currently I am the project manager. I work on projects that dad needs help on, for example projects like Global Gap or organic certifications. I don’t do any field work at the moment, so I haven’t been exposed to that part of the business just yet.
CF: What were you doing before you return to get involved in the family business?
PH: My dad has always inspired us to follow our passion, go out and find something that excites us, something we want to do every day. I told him that I wanted to farm, that THIS is what I want to do. But, he pushed me right out of the nest to find my passion, haha. So I went to Gonzaga University, got a degree in psychology, and then had a few jobs here and there.
Then, about 10 years ago, I got into the apple industry and I started to learn the marketing and sales side of the business. Over the years I have followed my dad’s fruit and I’ve helped sell it too. Recently, I told him that I really wanted to help with this business, and this time he agreed!
CF: That’s a wonderful story! It’s great you’re able to live your passion on a daily basis. What do you think future holds for you in the business?
PH: Spring is a pretty optimistic time for farmers so it’s a nice time to get started and see the whole process first hand. I am trying to absorb all of the information my dad can give me! I like to ride around in the truck and ask him lots of questions. This business is so ingrained in him so it’s going to take quite a long time for me to feel comfortable with the entire process like he does.
CF: I bet he is thrilled to have you involved. Is the rest of your family involved as well?
PH: I have been married for 12 years now. Our kids are three and six years old, so still really young. They love going out to the farm, riding through the mud puddles, picking cherries and nectarines, but they aren’t involved as of yet. We will see what happens in the future. My husband sells apples, so apples are a big topic of family conversation at the dinner table.
CF: What do you think about the growing number of women taking on important business roles in the industry?
PH: I don’t think it’s a question about gender, I see it as having people who are excited about the industry, the technology, and seeing where they can go given the right opportunities. Someone who is willing to work hard, be optimistic, get knocked down and get back up again. This business has gotten so scientific and technical, there are so many facets one can get involved in. One of the things I appreciate the most about working alongside my dad is our different strengths.
CF: What is your favorite part of the business so far?
PH: Hard question! I think it’s seeing the farm through my family’s eyes. Looking at it with my kids, my dad, as a family venture and how much possibility there is.
CF: How does the future of the industry look to you?
PH: There is a lot on the horizon. There are more apples coming into production than ever before so it’s going to take some pretty fancy foot work to figure it all out. It might be a challenging few years with some growing pains, but I think there is a spot for everybody and we’re going to figure out what works best for us.
CF: Lastly, do you have a favorite apple?
PH: Organic Pink Lady! Maybe because it signals the end of harvest and we can take a deep breath, haha.
CF: Thank you for your time and good luck with the growing season!
PH: Thank you, and I appreciate what Chelan Fresh is doing for the industry!