Broetje Orchards is located in Prescott, Washington, just outside the Tri-Cities area. They are a family owned and operated apple orchard and one of the largest continuous orchards in the region. We had the pleasure of touring their orchards as well as their packing and marketing facilities, run by First Fruits of Washington, earlier this fall.
It started with the Opal
The main reason why we were visiting Broetje Orchards was to learn more about the Opal apple. Opal apples are a non-GMO cross between Topaz and Golden Delicious apples which resulted in flesh that was non-browning. These apples oxidize at such a low rate that they will remain white for hours while others brown in minutes. Of course, the Opal is also a delicious apple that is extremely dense and crunchy, with a tart but sweet flavor. They were delicious eating out of hand and would lend themselves well to salads or baked goods. They also make an excellent juicing apple.
Inside Broetje’s packing house
We also got to see many of the inner-workings of the packing house. We saw Honeycrisps and Red Delicious come down the lines after picking and get packed into bins, cases, and bags. Upon entering the packing house, your senses are overwhelmed with the smell of apples that it feels as though you’re eating one. Broetje uses a mix of robotics and real humans throughout the process of culling, sorting, packing, and storing.
Apples arrive by the binful from the orchard and are emptied into a bath to help remove twigs and leaves. From there, they receive a quick dry before receiving a wax spray. After that, they go through an optical sorting computer that checks for size, blemishes, core rot, brix, and more. The apples are then stickered as they leave and travel down to their packing line. There, the best apples are handpacked onto trays before being loaded into cases, while others find their way to bins for use at processors and juicers. All the while, human eyes are on every step of the process pulling out debris, bad apples, and anything else that the robots may have missed, as well as now and again grabbing a case and trying to few just to be sure.
In the Orchards
Comparatively, Broetje’s actual orchards are quite simple, following practices–such as grafting–that have been around for millenniums. However, that hasn’t meant Broetje hasn’t found ways to innovate one way or another. While most apple trees are trellised into rows, Broetje has begun transitioning to V-trellis designs and dwarf-rootstock. This allows more trees to be planted in the same amount of land. These trees hang lower, which makes them easier to pick without the dangers of ladders. Drawf stock often makes for more resilient trees as well. Of course, another part of innovation is to look for new varieties, such as the Opal, that can offer a unique trait or flavor profile.
Vista Hermosa Foundation
Broetje’s practices don’t stop just in the field and packing house either. The third arm of the family’s business is Vista Hermosa Foundation, a non-profit formed originally to provide affordable housing and childcare for Broetje’s workers. Since then, Vista Hermosa has built affordable living communities across the world, Jubilee Leadership Academy in Prescott, and college scholarship funds. With all these elements together, Broetje Orchards is able to consistently fulfill their mission:
A quality fruit company commited to bearing fruit that will last