We all love the delicious Washington apples that appear in our local stores and markets every fall. As you probably know, stores and markets all around the world get their apples from Washington state, which produces 5 times more apples than any other state in the country, and roughly half the nation’s domestically grown apples, and 95% of all U.S. exports of apples.
As Apple growers go in Washington, FirstFruits Farms hasn’t been around the longest, but the Prescott-based Farm has had a huge impact on our region and in the Apple Industry worldwide in a relatively short time.
When their first trees were planted in Prescott in 1980, it was one of the largest Granny Smith Orchards anywhere at that time. Now, FirstFruits Farms trees cover more than 6,000 acres across three separate locations in our area and produce 15 different varieties of apples and cherries.
FirstFruits Farms’ innovative approach to sustainable, organic growing practices and water conservation, as well as a strong commitment to the local communities in which their employees work and live, has resulted in a completely vertically integrated operation, which means that the fruit is picked, stored, packed and shipped all onsite. This do-it-yourself alignment of growth and distribution has also made FirstFruits Farms the largest employer in Walla Walla County with over 2,000 employees during harvest.
FirstFruits Farms is truly a community all its own, with a daycare, single-family homes, and apartments for hundreds of employees and their families. Vista Hermosa is home to a community of more than 600 year-round residents and about 350 seasonal workers.
According to orchard managers, Harvest starts around the end of July with the early Gala and early Honeycrisp varieties and runs into mid-November. The different varieties of apples mature at different times, so the orchard maturity team pays close attention to the fruit and makes sure apples are harvested at the peak of maturity to ensure great color and high flavor.
A normal harvest would yield 500 million apples….yes, that’s half a billion apples…from FirstFruits’ trees. Variables such as extreme weather, wind, wildfires, and smoke, can all impact the fruit as well as the harvest schedule. On peak days with optimal conditions, FirstFruits Farms can generate as many as 39,000 boxes in a single day from two modern packing lines.
FirstFruits Farms is also the exclusive grower behind one of the nation’s leading proprietary apples, the Opal. The Opal is the yellow apple with the crispy bite. FirstFruits Farms has planted close to 1,000 acres of Opal apples since 2008. Though the bright yellow color helps the apple standout at your local market, it’s the Opal’s flavor profile– the right mix of sweetness–that makes it a fan favorite.
Washington has led the country in apple production for about 100 years, and FirstFruits Farms understands that for the apple growers in our region to experience continued success, proper stewardship, and care of the natural resources around them, and around all of us, is supremely important. In just 40 years, those core values of sustainability, respect, community and purpose have turned FirstFruits Farms into one of the leading innovators in the industry, and one of the largest producers of apples in the world.