ABOUT RESPONSIBLE CHOICE®
Responsible Choice® is Stemilt’s sustainability and social responsibility program. Stemilt founder Tom Mathison launched the program in 1989, long before sustainability was a buzzword. That same year, he transitioned a large number of acres to organic production, and began implementing integrated pest management techniques in orchards to reduce pesticide use.
Tom added a ladybug to Stemilt’s logo in 1989 to signify Responsible Choice® and our commitment to sustainability. A ladybug was chosen because they have long been considered to be beneficial insects to orchardists.
Tom was a farmer first and foremost, and strongly believed it was Stemilt’s job to make the responsible choice when producing apples, pears, cherries and summer fruits. The program, which led Stemilt to be an early adopter and leader in sustainability, is based upon Tom’s belief and saying that “we’re just caretakers of the land for a short time, and it’s our job to leave it as good as we possibly can, or better if we can.”
Now in its third decade, Responsible Choice® is a strong part of Stemilt’s culture, and evidence of the program in action can be seen every day, and across our farming and packing operations.
Three Areas of Responsibility
From fueling orchards with world-famous compost to providing employees and their dependents with access to a free, on-site health clinic, we focus on three areas of responsibility for program initiatives:
- Social Responsibility Efforts – our employees power our business and help make our fruits famous
- Sustainability at Our Orchards – we must care for the land and natural resources we rely on to grow fruit
- Sustainability in Our Packing Facilities – we must look for efficiencies that ensure Stemilt will be a sustainable business for future generations to come
Click the below sections to read more about specific efforts in each programming area.
Here at Stemilt, we strongly believe in giving back to our community. After all, it’s the place we work, play and are fortunate enough to call home. Social responsibility is a big part of our Responsible Choice® program, and focuses on:
- Programs that benefit our employees and their families
- Giving back to our community and those in need
- Providing education opportunities to create a stronger workforce for the future
Day in and day out, our employees power our business by committing their time and energy toward delivering world-famous fruit to people like you. We provide the following to our employees:
- Health, dental and vision insurance, and 401(k) retirement savings programs
- Employees and their dependents can visit the Stemilt Family Clinic at our Euclid Street facility whenever they need for FREE primary care visits. The clinic has a longtime medical doctor, Dr. Kovats, on staff, and a pharmacist to fill prescriptions for free at the clinic.
- The option to participate in a voluntary wellness program called “Healthy Life for You” that provides group support and education on a variety of health issues
- Free, on-site English classes through a partnership with the Wenatchee Valley Literacy Council
- Annual college scholarships through the Washington Apple Education Foundation are available to employees or their children
- Support of employee sport teams and volunteer activities in the community
As a major employer in central Washington, we believe it’s our duty to participate in helping to build a stronger community. Stemilt supports the local communities where we farm and operate in a variety of ways:
- Major supporter of Hospitality Heights, a charity that helps local families in need
- Primary sponsor of the Apple Blossom Grand Parade held each May in Wenatchee
- Regular donations of apples, pears and other fruits to more than 370 food banks and hunger programs in Washington State to help families and individuals in need
- Stemilt awards several scholarships to students living in central Washington through the Washington Apple Education Foundation
- Annual sponsor of Wenatchee Soccer Club, Mission Ridge Ski Team and Bike ’n Juice kids bike race
- Sponsor of community events like the Chelan County Fair and Festivas Mexicanas
- Every holiday season, our team provides gifts to every child in foster care in our community
World Famous Compost
In 2005, Kyle Mathison started a composting farm atop Stemilt Hill. Kyle dreamed of feeding his beloved trees with a high-quality, natural and prescribed food that was made in part by regenerating green waste from Stemilt orchards and packing facilities. More than a decade later, his World Famous Compost is helping grow fruit with complex and delicious flavor.
- 18 acres are dedicated to composting on Stemilt Hill
- 100% of the green waste produced at Stemilt facilities (including leaves, culled fruit, wood chips, etc.) is composted. Kyle also uses recycled lime from Stemilt refrigeration, horse manure from local stables, and various other ingredients to make a nutrient-rich and natural fertilizer that fuels over 1,400 acres of orchard.
- Kyle calls his compost “prescription food” for his trees. He produces both organic and natural compost at his farm, and each blend of compost is made to suit the nutrient needs of the trees it will later be applied to.
- The center is a green waste disposal site in Wenatchee, Washington that area residents and landscape businesses use. The yard waste collected here gets composted at Stemilt’s World Famous Compost Farm.
According to Kyle, composting requires patience and a lot of passion. It’s equal parts science and art, but its benefits to the environment and his fruit trees are worth all of the effort it takes to turn green waste into nutrient-rich fertilizer.
Kyle started composting after learning how it was used to fertilize vineyards and produce more flavorful wine grapes. Through trial and error, he came up with the right recipes for creating compost to feed his fruit trees. This prescriptive food ensures each tree gets the nutrient mix it specifically needs, and helps it produce fruits with better flavors. Compost also strengthens a tree’s natural defense system.
Aside from flavorful fruit, regenerating green and natural waste into compost prevents hundreds of truckloads of waste from filling up area landfills each year.
How Compost is Made
- Green waste is collected from Stemilt facilities, Stemilt’s Organic Recycling Center, and local sources and taken on a short trip to Stemilt Hill
- The waste is combined into long, neat rows, where it will be transformed into tree food
- A giant rototiller, towed by a tractor, mixes the rows daily in order to begin breaking down the waste
- Water is sprayed in order to aerate each row of compost. Steam from the heat in the compost comes off the pile, which lets the water do its job to maintain the ideal temperature of the pile.
- Each pile is monitored for temperature, rotated and watered daily for two months until everything has broken down into fine-grained soil that is rich with organic matter. Amazingly, the odor from the pile is gone when it’s complete!
Creating Great Compost Is Like Cooking a Great Steak
Kyle often compares making his prescribed food to cooking steak his ideal temperature – medium rare. Allow us to explain:
- The temperature is as important as the ingredients used to make it
- World Famous Compost makers take regular temperature readings to keep the compost between an ideal range of 142-145°F
- Achieving the right temperature balance between hot and cold is a must. If it gets too warm, it negatively impacts carbon levels. If it gets too cold, it prevents microbes from working correctly.
Compost Application: Feeding the Trees
- Once a batch of World Famous Compost is complete, it’s applied to Stemilt’s apple, pear and cherry orchards
- Compost is applied to the base of fruit trees twice each year
- A compost application in the summer delivers vital nutrients to the tree during its most active time of the year
- A second application takes place in the late fall, right before the leaves drop and the tree goes dormant for the winter
- As winter snow melts in the spring and trees become active again, the compost is taken by the roots of the tree to feed a new crop of World Famous Fruit!
Water: Essential for Growing Fruit
Our desert climate is ideal for growing tree fruit, and has given us a great respect for water. Access to a consistent water supply is essential in growing apples, pears, cherries and summer fruits. We’re able to grow fruit in the desert because federal water districts brought water from area rivers (the Columbia, Yakima and Snake rivers, to name a few) to our farms by building a network of irrigation channels. We also benefit from mountain snow pack that runs off in the spring into rivers and orchard reservoirs.
Water Conservation in the Orchard
A major focus of our Responsible Choice® program is to protect our natural resources, like water. Here’s how we conserve water:
- Soil moisture levels are monitored at our orchards so that we can determine the exact water application needs. Watering the right amount and when necessary ensures nutrients get to the trees’ roots, rather than being leached through the soil.
- New orchards at Stemilt are designed with soil moisture monitors (powered by solar energy) that wirelessly transmit data about the soil temperature and moisture levels to a computer at any given time. This real-time data allows orchard managers to make smart decisions on how and when to water the orchard from anywhere and at any time.
- Mother Nature helps us conserve water. The mountains that surround our orchards are covered with snow in the winter months. The snowpack that accumulates melts in the spring and summer to provide clean water to streams and rivers for use in orchard irrigation.
- Snow runoff that collects in large reservoirs on Stemilt orchards are key in watering orchards during the hottest part of the summer. Some reservoirs are stocked with native fish to maintain a healthy ecosystem.
- Stemilt orchards primarily use micro sprinklers to water trees, as they apply water exactly where it’s needed. In fact, direct irrigation applications increase irrigation efficiency up to 35% when compared with an overhead irrigation system.
- Micro sprinklers also deliver nutrients to our trees. Fertigation feeds trees’ nutrients through the watering system. It is highly effective at ensuring trees get the right amount of fertilizer. Our computerized system allows us to make quick decisions on feeding.
Kestrel Program: A Natural Way to Control Pest Birds
One of the biggest threats to any cherry crop is pest birds. Just like people, these small birds love to snack on cherries. The problem is, they don’t just snack on one, they snack on hundreds, and often just take a few pecks out of the cherry to damage it enough. Enter the American kestrel, a small falcon that is native to the Northwest. Kestrels are the main predator of the pest birds that roam our orchards. Stemilt cherry growers are able to naturally control bird populations by placing kestrel houses around the perimeter of their orchard in late winter. Kestrels move into the houses looking for a place to nest, and keep residence there. It’s a modern version of the scarecrow, as the mere presence of kestrels in the orchard keeps cherry-pecking birds away. To learn more, read the post on our blog, The Stem.
How do we manage pests, you might wonder? Integrated pest management, or IPM, is an effective system that growers use to manage pests with the least hazard to people, property and the environment. Growers at Stemilt have relied on IPM techniques since our Responsible Choice® program started in 1989, and all of our farm managers are trained in IPM today.
Through IPM, growers use current information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment to make decisions on pest control. The parasitic wasp is one great example of how IPM works in an orchard. This wasp is the main predator of the leaf roller pest, which loves to bother apples. Unfortunately, the wasps can’t survive through the winter season in apple trees, but they can survive on strawberry or rose leaves. We will plant strawberry plants under trees in orchards with leaf roller pest problems so that the beneficial insect (wasps) survives all winter and easts the pest (leaf roller) in the spring.
How We Use Pheremone Traps to Control Pests
Pheromone traps are another example of IPM in action at Stemilt. These traps help us control the Western cherry fruit fly, a pest that poses a huge threat to sweet cherries. Growers found through trial and error that the best way to control the fly was by setting pheromone traps in the orchard. These traps release pheromones, or attractants, which male fruit flies believe to be a signal that a female fruit fly is nearby and looking to mate. Releasing pheromones keeps female fruit flies out of orchards and prevents the flies from reproducing and damaging cherries.
Stemilt’s long history of sustainability and social responsibility through the Responsible Choice® program has made conservation a priority throughout our operations. Read on for success stories in different areas, including:
- Energy Conservation
- Reducing Carbon Emissions
- Water Conservation
- Recycling and Reuse Program
- Sustainable Packaging
- Energy-efficient lighting, including LEDs, is a feature of our plants and office buildings
- Automatic opening and closing doors on our cold storage rooms significantly reduces energy usage and costs
- CO2 scrubbers are used in refrigeration to reduce lime use
- Variable frequency drive systems on refrigeration fans reduce energy use and costs
Reducing Carbon Emissions
- Stemilt’s centralized footprint means that 90% of our fruit storage sites are located within 10 miles of a Stemilt packing facility. This significantly reduces fuel costs, and ensures fruit doesn’t have to travel far to be packed.
- Electric forklifts are used at Stemilt instead of propane
- Stemilt trucks are coordinated so that trucks do not travel empty
- Our trucks are also discouraged from idling as long as temperatures permit
Water Conservation in our Packing Facilities
Just like the orchard, our packing facilities rely on water to get our fruit from a bin into its final box. We try to balance water use with conservation methods like these:
- Flow meters on our packing lines allow us to record water usage at any given time and place in order to make adjustments accordingly. We’ve cut the gallons of water used on the line per minute in half with these meters, saving millions of gallons of water per year.
- Refitting our lines with new nozzles has given us more control over the output of water that goes onto the line
- Water systems throughout our packing plants are designed to turn off during work breaks and lunch hours to reduce usage
- Equipment that requires greater water usage has a filtration system that allows the water quality to be maintained and replaced less frequently. Fruit sizing equipment is one example.
Recycling and Reuse Program
- Stemilt recycles everything! Paper, cardboard, all forms of plastic, scrap metals, glass, lightbulbs, and used oil and batteries are all recycled throughout our farm and packing operations.
- Our paper/newsprint recycling program helps make up 51% of our annual needs for fiber trays used in packing apples and pears through a partnership with our local manufacturer.
- A used part and equipment catalog allows us to reuse rather than buy new when certain supplies are needed. This generates significant cost savings for Stemilt, and keeps these items out of landfills.
- Stemilt’s packaging committee works to increase packaging quality, reduce material volume and increase recyclability of our various packs
- All of the packaging on products that come into Stemilt is recycled regardless of the material
- Our Artisan OrganicsTM packaging for apples, pears, cherries and summer fruits is packed in a kraft paper box. Kraft requires 5% less wood fiber, 20% less water and less electricity in production compared with white paper. It’s also highly recyclable!
- A redesign on our cardboard boxes that hold bagged fruit reduced the amount of cardboard needed for the box by 20% while increasing strength. We’re always embracing a more recyclable poly bag for our fruits. Every bag is labeled with the recycle number in an easy-to-identify icon.
- Clam shells that are used by request of many of our retailers have been evaluated for recyclability and are numbered with a recycled icon
- The fiber fruit trays that hold our apples and pears in cartons have been shifted from black to purple fiber. The purple color requires less ink and fiber in production, and reduced the amount of pulp fiber needed by over 100,000 pounds a year. Many of these fiber trays are created from our own recycled paper and newsprint program!
Sustainability in Fruit Palletizing
- The majority of our fresh apples, pears, cherries and summer fruit is shipped on reusable wood pallets as a part of a national reuse program
- Stemilt’s rapid roper system uses recyclable stretch wrap to secure boxes on a pallet. This sustainable solution allowed us to lower our reliance on cornerboard braces, which were expensive and non-recyclable.