Organic isn’t just a thing we do. It’s what we do.
Three decades ago, people doubted their food. They had a hard time believing where their food came from or even how it was grown. Stemilt founder, Tom Mathison, recognized this distrust and knew he had a void to fill. That’s when he realized the power of organics.
Tom transitioned many acres of apples to organic production back in 1989 and ultimately set Stemilt on a path to become a leader in organic fruits today. Our Artisan Organics™ program has evolved over the years. We now grow all our fruits – apples, pears, cherries, peaches, nectarines, and apricots – organically. In fact, Artisan Organics™ fruits are making their way to you every day of the year!
Beyond simply growing organically, Tate Mathison, fifth generation grower and sales director at Stemilt, has focused on increasing Artisan Organics™ availability of high-flavor apple varieties, including Honeycrisp, SweeTango® and Piñata®. He wants to delight organic apple lovers with flavor and freshness.
Organic isn’t a trend for us at Stemilt. Organic represents a lifestyle that people like you crave and one we are happy to contribute to, so you can live your fullest life.
We’re talking about growing fruit organically on our blog.
How is fruit grown organically?
The basics in growing Artisan Organics™ fruits are very similar to conventional. Trees need cold in the winter, a mild spring to bloom and set the new crop and warm days but cool nights during the summer growing season that leads into harvest. The main difference in growing organically is that growers must follow the stringent national standards (set by the National Organic Program). On the farm side, this means that only natural materials like organic compost, rock minerals, and natural oils can be used to fight pests that appear. Weeding organic orchards is also a labor-intensive job. Organic integrity is a big deal and organic orchards must have an established ‘buffer’ zone between any non-organic farms nearby to uphold that.
It takes three consecutive years of farming organically before an orchard is inspected and certified organic. After harvest, our organic fruits are hand-picked and gently placed into plastic bins where they will be received at our facility to await packing.
It’s a big commitment to farm organically, but one we are proud to make, and able to do because of central Washington’s amazing arid climate.
How is organic fruit packed?
You might wonder how we maintain the organic nature of fruit after it leaves the farm. Well, our packing facilities are also certified to handle organics. At harvest, we place organic fruit into specially marked plastic bins. Fruits like cherries and stone fruits are packed almost immediately on a dedicated organic packing line. It’s easy to pack peaches and nectarines on a dedicated line because our entire crop is organic!
Organic apples and pears are either packed quickly after harvest on our dedicated organic packing line, or they are stored in controlled atmosphere rooms. We never mix organic and non-organic fruit. We wash (with a certified organic soap), rinse, size, and sort for quality before placing the fruit into an Artisan Organics™ box.
The equipment for an organic packing line is the same as non-organic, and if we ever ran non-organic on a line that handles organic fruit, we thoroughly clean and sanitize every nook and cranny before resuming organic packing. Our facilities renew their organic certificate annually through an inspection by the USDA (or state agency) to ensure we are maintaining the high integrity of organics.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is Organic?
- How is an orchard certified to harvest organic fruit?
- Does Stemilt apply wax to organic apples?
- How does Stemilt prevent co-mingling of conventional and organic fruit at its packing facility?
- How do I know my fruits are indeed organic?
- I spotted a white residue on the stem bowl of my organic apples or organic pears. What is it?
- Do stickers on your fruit compromise the fruit’s organic status?
- Are Artisan Organics™ fruits genetically modified (GMO)?
What is Organic?
Organic refers to the way agriculture products (food and fiber) are grown and packed. To certify our products as organic, we maintain and replenish soil by using non-synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. We do this for three consecutive years before achieving certification. Outside the farm, organic products are minimally processed without artificial ingredients, and there are stringent rules for handling organic fruit to maintain its integrity.
How is an orchard certified to harvest organic fruit?
The USDA governs the National Organic Program and you must have a current organic certificate to be a producer of organic fruit. The USDA (or any-like state agency) does an annual inspection of your orchard to issue this certification. To achieve organic status, it takes three consecutive crop seasons of farming an orchard organically.
Does Stemilt apply wax to organic apples?
No, we don’t apply wax to organic apples. However, organic apples may appear waxed! How can that be? Any Artisan Organic™ apple that looks like it has been waxed has actually re-waxed itself with the natural (cuticular) wax that it comes off the tree with. We wash this natural wax off during the packing process, but the apple re-waxes to protect itself both from moisture loss and dehydration. It’s very common and occurs when apples are kept out of refrigeration for too long. This natural wax does not alter the flavor and is completely safe to consume. We always recommend washing the fruit prior to eating and in this case, most of the natural wax can be washed off with mild soap/vinegar and warm water.
How does Stemilt prevent co-mingling of conventional and organic fruit at its packing facility?
Just like the farm, organic packing facilities must also be inspected annually to achieve an organic certificate from the USDA. At Stemilt, organic bins are clearly marked at the time of receiving. We also don’t pack organic and conventional on the same line at the same time. This ensures organic fruit gets packed according to organic packing standards and is identified correctly in its final packaging.
How do I know my fruits are indeed organic?
Any of our organic products will be packed under our Artisan Organics™ label. Also, if the sticker on your fruit has a leading “9” before the four digits, it is organic.
I spotted a white residue on the stem bowl of my organic apples or organic pears. What is it?
This is Kaolin clay, a natural material that we apply to protect organic apples and pears from getting sunburned. Yup, even fruit can get sunburned! The clay reflects the sun preventing the burn. It’s usually washed off the fruit during packing but some residue can be left behind in the stem/bottom ends of the fruit, where the brushes don’t reach.
Do stickers on your fruit compromise the fruit’s organic status?
Nope! While they aren’t organic, the stickers are not intended for consumption and therefore do not compromise the organic status. The label material and food contact grade adhesive used is compliant with the USDA’s Food and Drug Act.
Are Artisan Organics™ fruits genetically modified (GMO)?
Nope! GMOs are prohibited in organic certification. At Stemilt, we don’t grow any of our fruits, including non-organic, with genetically modified seeds.