Growing Fruit Organically


Last week, I traveled (with my wife and boys) to the East Coast to see my father, Kyle Mathison, receive a rather prestigious national farming award. Kyle was named the Organic Farmer of the Year by the Organic Trade Association during their annual Organic Leadership awards celebration. In addition to farming many acres of apples, pears, and cherries organically, Kyle follows an innovative approach to farming fruit in general. He uses things like fish oil and compost – in order to consistently grow high-quality fruit.

In light of this achievement, I wanted to share a little about what it means to farm fruit organically, and the process at the farm level for obtaining an organic certificate. Farming organically is a huge commitment, and I am always proud to tell people that organic has been a journey Stemilt has been on since 1989.

By definition, organic is a system of farming that maintains and replenishes the soil without using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. An orchard must be organically farmed for three seasons before it can be certified as organic. This is known as the “transitional” phase. During that time, the farmer is following all of the organic standards set forth by the National Organic Standards Board for that crop.

In the fruit world, this means only using natural fertilizers (such as manure, compost, and rock minerals) to maintain soil fertility. Kyle uses custom-made compost in both his conventional and organic orchards in order to feed his trees (an application of compost from last fall is shown below). Pheromone traps, soaps, dormant oils, organic applications, and beneficial insects help keep pest populations at bay, while problematic weeds are controlled by cover crops, mulching, and mechanical methods, rather than herbicides.

By the third year of organic farming, the farmer can finally apply for an organic certificate and hopefully begin packing the fruit as organic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and its state agencies will inspect the orchard and all farming records in order to issue an organic certificate. Each organic certificate must be renewed annually in order to ensure that the organic standards have been upheld at the orchard level.

There’s much more to share on organic farming (and packing of organic fruit), which I plan to do in a future post on The Stem. Until next time!