Submitted by The Olympia Food Co-op
Looking down from the front desk, I saw a kid excited about an apple in our Free Fruit Basket – a program for kids who visit the Olympia Food Co-op. This opened my eyes to the adults coming through my cashier lane with apples, excited of how delicious they have been this year, how tasty the varieties, how interesting the different sizes of each variety, how fun it has been creating taste mixtures and pairing with cheese.
Perhaps this is something to look into, I thought. What is it that folks are so excited about? Talking to some of the produce buyers, I am discovering what the excitement is about – small orchards. Orchards that have formed a co-op. Orchards on a hill with views of mountains.
Overlooking the Columbia River Valley, with apples as their biggest crop, Brownfield Orchard is at the forefront of the organic fruit movement, being certified organic by the state’s Organic Food Program way back in 1988. This was a time when these programs were just being initiated in our country and Brownfield’s was one of the first farms in Washington be certified. John Brownfield is third generation farmer in the Chelan area and began working with organic growing processes to avoid the use of chemicals, toxic to the land and food. And now, with fourth generation farmer Mike, they have grown into the challenging, yet rewarding, field of direct sales. This is where stores can buy directly from the farms, rather than the usual in-between warehouse wholesaler. This allows for more control of what is being sold, reduces the number of times apples are moved and stored, and ultimately brings lower costs to the consumer.
Once a week, we receive Brownfield’s freshly-picked apples and we go through a lot of them. Our Fuji, Gala, Honeycrisp, Granny, Braeburn, and Pink Lady apples are all from Brownfield. It can be a fun experience browsing their apple selections as Brownfield goes without sorting their apples by uniform size so there is a wide variety.
Another resource for excellent apples and direct weekly delivery, Okanogan Producers Marketing Association is actually a co-op of six orchards. This group of farms is located near Okanogan on the eastern side of the northern Cascades where the climate is warm and sunny. Because they are a co-op, they have a lot to offer in crop variety, quality follow-through and environmental sustainability as they share equipment and delivery systems. Their focus has been on heirloom varieties and currently the Olympia Food Co-op is stocking Winesap and Arkansas Black.
Although we got our last crop of apples from Burnt Ridge this week, we still want to share this incredible farm and encourage support of the farm beyond apples. Try their fresh chestnuts, asian pears or amazing jams of interesting varieties (kiwi!).
This apple farm is closest to Olympia, located in the hills southwest of Chehalis. In 1979, founder Michael Dolan did not have a car. Instead, he rode his bike into a logged landscape southwest of Chehalis which lead to an incredible view of three surrounding mountains. It was here that he pursued his passion for organic farming, soon growing into a direct-mail order business of nut and fruit crops as well as local plants promoting sustainability. Burnt Ridge has been a cornerstone of the Olympia Farmer’s Market for years, providing a variety of apple tree starts, and encouraging folks to grow their favorite fruit.
According to Michael, in his interview published by Tilth Producers, the apples Burnt Ridge grows are suited for our region. As I understand it, some folks determine this to be a healthy way to eat – what grows well near you will sustain you the best. Michael also talks about sustainability of keeping trees, pointing out that while they provide food for generations, they also create stabilization for the soil, have medicinal properties, offer flowers for honeybees along with something to keep us warm – wood!
And a final note from one of our Cheese Department managers at the Westside store, offered when I sought apple-cheese pairing advice.
“The sweeter the apple, the sharper the cheese it can withstand. Think sweet and sour. If it’s a tart apple – tart and sharp are not good together – use a big flavor like a nice solid medium cheddar, or a nice brie. Something with a lot of fat content will keep the punch of the tart and then will round it out with fats. This brings out the flavors of both. Remember, sharp and tart not good. Unless you are adding sweet, then the sweet brings all the flavors out!”