On The Farm

The Apple of Yakima’s Eye

Washington Apple

In the fall, Washington State’s apple country is alive with the crisp, wonderful scent of the harvest. But despite living here since I was seven years old, apple farming was never something I’d thought much about until recently.   

I was raised surrounded by orchards, and I still see them everywhere I go; I pass them on my way to take my three children to school, then to work and back home. As a child, my backyard was filled with orchards until they were replaced with housing when I was about ten.

Here in Yakima, one of the largest apple-growing regions in the U.S., I’m reminded that it’s harvest season when the semis start arriving to pick up all the fruit. They come and go each day, loading up with apples from the many farms here, which makes traffic along many of the single-lane country roads significantly slower. We may grumble a bit about the slow traffic, but at the end of the day, we all know how important the apple business is here.

During apple season, locals will make pies, moonshine, cider, crisps and a whole lot more. And several family-run markets and roadside storefronts offer customers the opportunity to test their skills at cider making, peeling apples, and making pie filling. My best friend and I made homemade apple pie filling two years ago for the first time – I can’t say we made the best filling (I don’t bake or cook) but it was tasty! 

Homemade apple cider

Homemade apple cider

 

And if you haven’t tried it, I suggest eating freshly sliced apples with a hint of salt. The sweet and salty combination is a favorite of mine.

The thing I love most about apple season is the smell of sweet crispness that hangs in the air as I walk through the orchards. The crunching sound of the branches and grass as I make my way between the rows of trees is so peaceful. When I walk through orchards, especially right before harvest, I have this feeling of being deep in the woods, protected from the outside world.

No matter the season, I always find the orchards so beautiful. From the changing colors in the fall to the snow-covered branches in the winter to the blooms in the spring – I love it all.

Washington Apples

I consider myself fortunate to live in the country surrounded by orchards and nature.

 

My cousin from Los Angeles asked me recently about the “orchard business” here and if I knew much about the people who grow the fruit. Washington grows more apples than any other state, so you’d think I know something about the industry. To be honest, I never really looked much into it, even though many of my high-school friends have gone on to work for several of the companies. 

To get familiar with the apple industry in Yakima, I visited Borton Fruit, which has been operating in Yakima, WA for over 100 years. The family-owned company also grows pears and cherries. I live just a few streets away from their packing house so it was about time I stopped in to say hello.

Before the tour, I thought of Borton as just another fruit grower and distributor, but after touring the orchards and learning about the process, I gained a much deeper understanding of what the people who work there actually do. It was amazing to see the different processes that go on in the company, from picking the apples to processing them at their packing house and then transporting them all over the country and around the world.

Sky Johnson, a Borton Fruit employee and someone I went to high school with, gave my friend Emily and me a tour of the company’s facilities. It was fun to listen to him explain everything he knows about the apple process; he really knows his stuff.

Below are some pictures from our time at Borton Fruit, along with some facts about the apple industry that I found most fascinating. Learning more about my “neighbors” was so interesting for this country girl. I hope you enjoy getting a glimpse into Yakima’s apple country as well!

Washington-Apples-Borton-Fruit

Borton Fruits has around 6,000 acres, most of which is made up of apple orchards. Apple harvest begins around the end of July or the start of August. The apple harvest usually ends by November as freezing temperatures begin to move in. Sometimes this comes earlier than expected, so the company needs to work fast.

 

Apple.Ripeness.Testing

Growers use iodine tests to get a visual indication of ripeness. As an apple ripens, the starch converts into sugar. The iodine changes the color of the starch, so a less-green apple is sweeter and therefore riper.

 

Washington Apples

All apples are valuable, even if they aren’t the perfect size and shape. The ones that don’t make it to the supermarkets are used in juice, apple sauce and other apple products.

 

IMG_4693

The men and women working the orchards at Borton Fruits will harvest about 280 million pounds of apples this season. That’s 7 million bushels of apples at 40 pounds a bushel – the equivalent of 46,000 Asian elephants.

 

Washington Apple

Borton grows 13 varieties of apples. Their most popular varies are Honeycrisp and Red Delicious.

 

Borton Fruit employs both locals and people from out of state to provide extra labor and handpick apples during harvest season. Here, apples are being cleaned, sorted, inspected and hand packed into millions of boxes to be shipped around the world. About 30% of Washington State’s apple crop will go to countries around the world each year. During a single season, about 39,000,000 bushels will be exported to countries like India, Taiwan, China, Indonesia, Dubai and many others. Borton Fruit aims to export about 2.1 million bushels of apples this season.

Borton Fruit employs both locals and people from out of state to provide extra labor and handpick apples during harvest season. Here, apples are being cleaned, sorted, inspected and hand packed into boxes to be shipped around the world.      

 

IMG_4692

About 30% of Washington State’s apple crop will go to several countries each year. During a single season, about 39,000,000 bushels will be exported to countries like India, Taiwan, China, Indonesia, Dubai and many others. Borton Fruit aims to export about 2.1 million bushels of apples this season.

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