Fruit that is quickly processed retains its full flavor, freshness, and nutrients. Oregon Fruit sources high quality fruit from our neighbors in the Pacific Northwest, and as we expand across the globe we’re committed to keeping the same high standards wherever our fruit is sourced.
Phil Olson’s been growing fruit for over 40 years.
He started from zero, after seeing a for-sale sign on the farm. His dad, a lifelong stockbroker who always wanted to work with in agriculture, helped Phil secure the initial loan.
At first, Phil farmed while working other jobs. He sold real estate while farming. He flew as a full-time Horizon Air pilot while farming. He even followed in his dad’s footsteps as a stockbroker while farming, which made Phil comfortable with the unknown. Good thing, too, because farming “is just like gambling, except we don’t pay the airline tickets to Reno and Las Vegas.”
Phil developed the irrigation system, planted high-intensity fruit crops, and a few years later, entirely paid off the initial loan. Eventually, the farm grew so productive that he started farming full-time. The hard work and risks—especially his dad’s initial financial support—were paying off.
“I started with one tractor and four-bottom plow in 1973,” Phil says. The journey, the people, taught him everything. “It’s who you talk to in this world. There’s so much to learn out there.”
Even though his dad’s gone now, Phil’s farm thrives. He named it Red’s Mountain Blueberries in honor of the old man. “He had red hair, and his nickname was ‘Red,’” Phil says. “While my dad never farmed, he was my number-one advocate.”
“I want something that I can get my arms around.”
“Growing fruit is not for the faint of heart,” says Phil Olson, Oregon Fruit’s blueberry grower, but he’s a-okay with that. “I really like the higher risk and the higher reward. I like to be able to build something and then look at the fruits of it.”
If you ask him about retirement—Phil’s 71 years old and counting, so it’s a fair question—he’s flat-out not interested. “For one, I don’t know how to do that,” he says. “And number two, why stop if it’s something you enjoy doing?”
He laughs, comparing himself to his perennial crop of blueberries. “These things can last 30-40 years,” he says. Sure, “the production goes down a little bit,” but the trade-off is wisdom. And pure, unfiltered job satisfaction: “I want something that I can get my arms around. Something that I can say ‘That’s what we do.’”
Trust farmers who eat their own crop.
Take Phil Olson, blueberry grower with Oregon Fruit: “We buy ‘em from the shelf,” he says. “If we’re traveling someplace, I take along a can of Oregon Fruit blueberries. We’re trying to do as good a job as is humanly possible. We work with a company that understands that. We’re gonna give you the best of everything we do here.”
This isn’t self-aggrandizement. It’s identifying with your work. “I like growing a food crop,” Phil says, “because I eat it too.” And not just any food. Food with character: “You could grow wheat, but it isn’t something that has quite the personality to it that fruits do. They’re docile.”
You want to grow food with a lovely personality, you need to love it. Encourage it. Build the right conditions—in that, “you’ve gotta be concerned about the little things,” he says—then let it take root. “I really like the idea of something that will grow, that’ll even improve itself when I’m not standing here pushing it along,” Phil says. “If I set the environment for it, it’s no different than raising a child. …Every year, we’ll come out in the spring and we’ll see the new growth coming out. Then we come out in the harvest and see, hopefully, the fruit really heavy with crop.
“I’ve got two daughters,” Phil says. “I’m very proud of them today. It’s the same thing with this fruit. Each one of these is its own effort. Its own ultimate prize, doing what it can do.
Back before he returned to the family farm in Lynden, WA, John Maberry was studying aerospace engineering at UW in Seattle. Studying things like fluid mechanics, materials science, linear algebra. “It’s what I was good at,” he says, “and what I enjoyed.” Then he met a girl.
She’d grown up in the same area as John, even though they hadn’t spent much time together as kids. She got a job as a volleyball coach at a local high school back home, and it wasn’t much of a choice for John, not really: He put down the rocket science, left Seattle, and chased her back.
Sometimes finding your place means seeing the old places with new eyes.
His dad was running the family farm, the third generation to do so. John grew up working on the farm since he was five—mostly in the summers, but still. (“That’s what was expected of us,” he says. “It was great being a kid and being able to make money. Labor laws don’t apply to families.”) He married his girlfriend, stepped into the family business, and together, they started their own family. That was a little over ten years ago.
This part of the world is special, and returning after a time away only proved that fact to John. “This is one of maybe two or three places in the world where raspberries grow really well,” John says. “The perfect soil and perfect climate only really happens in this area, down in Chile, and Eastern Europe: All very similar latitudes with large bodies of water, and mountains on both sides. We get fairly mild winters—dry—and mild summers, and the soils here are well drained. That’s what makes this area special.”
And even though, back in Seattle, he didn’t expect to end up working the family farm—“I probably could’ve picked a better major for being a professional farmer”—he loves it. He puts his engineering study to work designing and refining specialty equipment, and his main efforts to increase overall yields are starting to pay off. Despite the long hours, he’s able to come home and see his family whenever he needs to.
“It’s not the same grind every day,” he says. “We move from planting to getting the fields ready to pick to harvest to taking the fields out and pruning. We’re always doing something different. It’s just nice.”
“This really is a pretty place.”
Growing raspberries on a Washington family farm up near Canada isn’t just an idyllic, feel-good story. Even though, yes, John Maberry definitely loves his job, and yes, you should absolutely visit his part of the Cascades as soon as possible. He just wants you to know that there are huge social, economic, and environmental benefits to buying Pacific Northwest raspberries. “If you care about those things,” John says, “then you buy domestic. We have laws and regulations, and they’re good, but our competitors don’t.”
First, if you’re getting Pacific Northwest raspberries, they’re probably coming from family farms—“well above 90%, probably above 95%, are family farms” says John. And when you run a family farm in an intimate community, you tend to treat your employees like people, not numbers. “We care about our employees,” he says. “Most of them, we consider family. We do the best we can for them.” You do things like protect their rights, their safety, and health. Not just because that’s the law. Because your kids go to the same schools, because you see each other in town almost every day, and because you want each other to be happy.”
Pacific Northwest-grown raspberries have other benefits too, like environmental and food-safety laws, that raspberries from sources outside of the States aren’t likely to have. John’s farm uses sustainable practices because they’re simply less wasteful; they “just come naturally to any business that cares about the bottom line.”
But everything comes back to flavor and quality, the most convincing reasons to buy Pacific Northwest raspberries. “We pride ourselves on having the best,” John says. “When they’re in season, and you’re driving around the fields, it’s hard not to just eat ‘em off the bush.”
“We pride ourselves on having the best.”
If you love raspberries, file this under Very Important.
“There’s two different types of raspberries,” says John Maberry. His family farm, located in Lyden, Washington, one of the top three growing regions in the world, is also one of the biggest producers in the world. He knows something about raspberries. “We grow the industry standard,” he says, “which is Meeker. It’s been around for 60 years, and it’s kind of the flavor standard for raspberries.”
Meeker. Higher sugar content and intense flavor, thanks to the longer summer days at high latitudes. Got it? There’s more.
Flavor and quality also has a lot to do with management practices. Soil health, pruning, smart agronomy. Water, for instance: “If a field doesn’t get enough water,” says John, “then the fruit dries up and it might taste like it’s got more flavor, but it’s really just because the plant is water-stressed—not getting enough water to the berry.” But since raspberries are “susceptible to root rot and soil diseases,” John’s farm is also careful not to overwater. Soil quality, too, is paramount. One aspect that makes their northern Cascades region so special is the sandy loam, the perfect soil type for raspberries, because it drains water. His farm needs to keep everything in careful balance.
Expert agronomy. Careful management. Sandy loam. And one more essential fact about growing the perfect raspberry: the best flavor.
“It’s because they’re selectively picking,” John says. “When that fruit is actually ready to fall off, they’re fully ripe. The machines come through and shake the bush, and anything that is ready to fall will fall.”
Handpicking raspberries—the method used by competing foreign raspberry producers—targets raspberries that look ripe but are often a day or two early. “They’re picking anything that’s red,” John says. And some international markets with a glut of fresh berries simply freeze their substandard excess, beyond being economically frustrating, just doesn’t taste good. “It’s a completely different berry, “ John says. “They’re picking something that needs to sit on the shelf for two weeks. It’s picked unripe.”
Needless to say, as a third-generation raspberry farmer in one of the best places on the planet to be one, John Maberry knows the difference between grown-with-purpose, brightly sweet, intensely flavorful, perfectly ripe Pacifc Northwest raspberries and, you know, imported ones. Now you do too.
When you farm, you become part of something larger than yourself. The land: its seasonal cycles, its health, its needs. Your crop. Your employees. Your customers. You become part of a legacy.
Matt Maberry grew up on his family’s farm in Lynden, Washington, in the Cascades near the Canada border, where the sandy loam soil and the climate—warm in the summer, a good chill come winter—is as good as it gets for growing raspberries. Back in the 1940s, Matt’s great-grandpa, Elli, moved here from Missouri and discovered that growing 21 acres of strawberries wasn’t a bad way to make a living. Matt’s own father, Curt, “was very good about getting us kids involved in different areas of the farm,” Matt says. “He had prepared us enough to keep us going.”
Even so, Matt didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do. Maybe teaching; maybe coaching. He wasn’t sure what. Then Matt’s father passed away in 2007, and the legacy of their family farm fell to him, his cousin John, and his siblings. Whether they were ready or not.
Now, as co-owner, he understands the subtle lessons his dad was teaching him. That farming is sort of like coaching. That giving people opportunities to succeed is how you do business. That doing business as a family means thinking generationally.
Today, under the stewardship of the fourth Mayberry generation, the Curt Maberry Farm grows 1,000+ acres of raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. “It’s our goal to keep it in the family and keep the family tradition going,” Matt says.
Matt and his family farms this land with respect, making sure their employees and neighbors and kids are safe and cared-for, recycling and drip-irrigating and using cover crops to keep their soil healthy, and developing sustainable practices and long-term business strategies. It’s all aimed at keeping the farm alive for the next generation.
His dad would be proud. “His shoes are big shoes to fill, but we will do what we can do,” Matt says. “It’s in our family blood.”
“It’s in our family blood.”
As co-owner of his family’s fourth-generation berry farm—1,000+ acres of raspberries, strawberry, and blueberries in Lynden, Washington, up near the Canada border—Matt Maberry’s sense of time is more than clocks, more than calendars.
On the one hand, time for Matt is discrete. Calibrated to the precise, specific needs each day brings to running a berry farm: Planting. Pruning. Managing. Harvesting. Processing. Selling. “Farming is great!” Matt says. “No day is the same. Every day has a different challenge one way or the other, good or bad. Everybody asks, ‘What have you got going today?’ And I really don’t know until I get into it. Though we do as much as we can, Mother Nature has a different opinion on a lot of things.”
This sense of time teaches you to adapt, pay close attention, make careful choices. “We respect our fruit,” Matt says. “We take time to do things right.”
On the other hand, time can be deep, heavy, rooted in seasonal cycles and generations, and this profoundly affects Matt’s choices. Working land that’s been in his family almost 80 years affects his farming practices: “We treat this land in a very respectful way,” Matt says. Drip irrigation conserves water. Turning the fruit cane back into the soil and planting winter cover crops increases soil health. Recycling plastics and cardboard reduces their farm’s waste stream. “We don’t want to do anything to hurt the land that we’re growing on.”
Because his dad made choices strongly anchored in civic values, Matt understands his decisions as an employer can and do affect Lynden and its surrounding communities for years to come. “Some people who babysat us when we were kids have been here 40+ years,” he says. “They’re just great people.” His family’s long-term plans aim to keep the farm sustainable, to “keep what we have going for that next generation.”
It’s special, what Curt Maberry Farm has going. Grounded both in decade upon decade of yearly cycles and unique, never-to-happen-again moments. Matt gets that. You can taste it in his family’s fruit, in the care they take, in their legacy they’re building.
“We would never have walked away from the farm. It’d be like walking away from family.” For Dan, the farm and the family have always been the same thing. Maybe that’s true for all the Eischens.
For the Eischens, Plums have long been part of the family’s fabric, from the early fall harvest to the plum cake that Dan grew up eating. Dan Eischen’s family has been growing in the Willamette Valley for nearly 140 years, starting with his great-grandfather Mathias back in 1884.
“You spread out the Bisquick, put on the sugar, put on the cinnamon…it’s a cross between a cake and a cinnamon roll. I grew up on that,” he recalls.
“It was a purchase from the railroad. That’s how we ended up with the farm,” Dan says. “From Mathias, it went to Alexander, and then it went to Dave, my father. And now I’m helping with the family partnership.”
He would never have walked away, and neither do any of them “Generation five is helping with the harvest — that’s our four kids. Plus my sister’s three kids. And then there’s generation six, who are just getting on the tractors — 10, 12, 13, 14 years old — and there’s a bunch of them.”
After high school, Dan moved away to build a career in food processing. But even during the years he was away, he was always coming home.
“Harvest is intense, so we’d all come back and help. We were always integrating all that with all of our other jobs,” Dan says.
“I like seeing the crops grow. The sun comes down and shines on the leaves, and the leaves turn it into something else. If I had all the funds in the world, I would grow all kinds of different things, just to see how.”
Ask Dan Eischen what he loves about being part of a family farm business, and he looks to the sun.
“I like seeing the crops grow. The sun comes down and shines on the leaves, and the leaves turn it into something else. If I had all the funds in the world, I would grow all kinds of different things, just to see how,” he says.
Another favorite part of farming? The hard work, Dan says: “It’s good for us, you know.”
The work that Dan does on his family farm near Cornelius yields the sweet, deep-purple plums canned and sold by Oregon Fruit Products. Soft and tender when ripe, plums are also surprisingly durable — a quality that helps them thrive in the rainy Willamette Valley.
Too much water can cause other stone fruits to swell and split, which ruins them for sale. But in more than 40 years of growing plums, “I think we had splits from rain in only one year,” Dan says.
He says plum growers have to be tough, too, to survive ever-changing technology, markets, weather, and consumer tastes.
“The weather and all the costs, and everything that happens, you’ve got to deal with it all. You’re marketing your product, you’re doing the accounting of your product, you’re doing the science of your product, and then you’re keeping your family going,” he says. “Farming is not just one job in a specific field. These days, you’ve got to be fluent in a lot of different fields.”
“I think people and business go together. Getting everybody together from the family to harvest. Or when we have our friends come out and get fruit when we glean at the end, those kinds of things,” says Dan Eischen, a plum grower for Oregon Specialty Fruit.
“When you work a farm, you get a lot of roots to the land, and to family and people and friendships,” he says.
For Dan, maintaining those traditional connections with the land and with neighbors you can depend on has been key to sustaining his family’s six-generation farm in the Willamette Valley.
In his grandmother’s day, neighbors never failed to stop and talk as they walked past each other’s farms on their way to town “because they supported each other as a community,” he says.
Today, Dan tries to keep that neighborly spirit alive by making sure his neighbors know that his farm doors are always open.
In a bigger city, “you might have more dense living, but you might not know people quite as well. I think the ag community can help with that,” he says. “If you come to my house, you get to come in and sit at our table. Have coffee, talk, that sort of thing. That’s how it works on a family farm.”
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