Bridges Produce Grower Partner, Columbia Gorge Organic, Celebrates 30 Years of Organic Farming
HOOD RIVER, OR - Bridges Produce's grower partner, Columbia Gorge Organic, is celebrating 30 years of pioneering the organics category. The Oregon-based family farm and juice producer was started by Cheryl and Ron Stewart and their sons, Jimmy and Ronny. In 1975, the family began their adventure by purchasing a 100-acre apple and pear orchard to make a new life for themselves. Bridges Produce set out to partner with the growers as it began its own organics pursuit.
“The fact that they are a committed family farm with unique items and a respected label made them a great first grower partner for my emerging business 17 years ago,” said Ben Johnson, President. “It is fun and rewarding to get to share their incredible story with the organic industry.”
According to a press release, Ron quickly learned that there were gaps in the resources and techniques being used for organic tree fruit production. In response, he began experimenting and developed his own methods. One area that was of particular focus was the development of spray techniques for apple scab and russeting which are now used in organic orchards all around the world.
“Other growers in Hood River said that growing organically could not be done on this scale, but the Stewarts took the risk and it paid off,” Johnson commented.
Jeff Fairchild of New Seasons Market also commented on the family business’s success.
“32 years ago I meet Ron and Cheryl at a Tilth conference. Ron asked me if I would buy transitional apples from Hood River, claiming that they would be the first to grow organically in Hood River. I was so excited to have a local ‘organic’ option that I was willing to start buying immediately to help them start their organic program!” Fairchild said.
The Stewarts also started building their own compost from organic materials from the orchard as well as pulp from their developing juice business. It’s estimated that over the last 30 years, they have distributed over 30,000 tons of organic compost into the orchards.
“From what I recall, Columbia Gorge Fruit Company was considered to be the largest Certified Organic Orchard in the U.S. and maybe in the world in the early to mid ’90s. That’s when ‘crazy’ started to become appealing and organic orchards really stared developing,” commented Tom Lively of Organically Grown Company.
Colombia Gorge Organic’s juice business has also seen great success over the years and has diversified its offerings. The Stewarts now grow 40 varieties of organic tree fruit and produce over 30 organic beverages including juices, superfood smoothies, protein drinks, and cold brew coffees.
“They have shown integrity, commitment, and creativity in every phase of their development as a family farm, and later when they established their fresh, organic juice company. The Stewarts have always shown care and pride in what they do. You can taste it in their fruit,” Bu Nygrens of Veritable Vegetable remarked.
Pioneers of the organic industry have come together to share these stories and their congratulations for 30 years of amazing work in the organic field. Congratulations Bridges Produce, Columbia Gorge Organic, and the Stewart Family!