For the Love of a Good Peach

Photos by Rick and Marilynn and Nancy Warner

by Nancy Warner

Ask organic fruit growers Rick and Marilynn Lynn what success looks like and they're likely to hold up one of the gorgeous, glowing peaches they grow on their organic farm near Bridgeport. While it might look to us like a sweet and juicy piece of fruit, they see the result of a quest they've been on for the past 16 years: to learn how to produce high quality fruit using a holistic approach that supports the health of the land and their family and brings a smile to the faces of many satisfied customers. It's a living and a lifestyle where the Lynn's call their own shots and have license to try new things. "That's why I like it," Rick says, "It's hard work but never boring."

While Rick and Marilynn both came from farming families, they stepped into new territory when, in 1991, they decided to buy a peach and nectarine orchard and convert it to an organic farm. At the time most local people didn't see how farming organically with limited use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers could be economically feasible. But when they attended the Tilth Producers sustainable agriculture conference in Chelan that year "we met the nicest people and they all encouraged us to go organic," Rick recalls. They worked for three years to earn their organic certification while keeping up with their respective yard maintenance and community library jobs and were ready to harvest their first organic crop in 1995 when a hailstorm struck ruining 90% of their fruit. They harvested the fruit still hanging from the trees and took it up to the Farmer's Market in Twisp where customers, eager to support their efforts, bought everything they had. "Still today we are humbled by the appreciation and gratitude of those customers," Marilynn says.

This was a turning point for the Lynn family. "We took a very serious look at what we were doing," Rick said "and decided we wanted to keep farming even though Mother Nature blasted us." "After 4 years and putting as much effort as we had in here," Marilynn adds, "and already growing to be so connected with the land there wasn't really anything else that we were willing to do. So what if we don't get rich. We enjoy what we're doing."

The hailstorm did more than test their commitment to the farming lifestyle. It gave them an opportunity to see their marketing and crop in a whole new way. Instead of continuing to wholesale most of their fruit ñ to pick it green and ship it off to be packed and sold to customers elsewhere - the Lynn's decided to grow the very best fruit they could and to gradually make the changes needed to direct market 100% of their crop. Over the years they've added the infrastructure – the shop, packing space, coolers, vehicles, labels, boxes ñ needed to maintain quality control from raising the fruit to putting it into the hands of their customers at farmer's markets from Seattle to Twisp. "It's really why we're still farming now," Marilyn explains, "because we were doing all of the picking and packing and transportation and marketing within our family.

The Lynn's pay attention to what works from both a production and marketing standpoint and continually adapt their approach. "It's 4 hours between here and Seattle so Marilyn and I have a lot of time to talk," Rick explains. "Every year is different so we try things differently. They have, for example, added apricots as an early season crop that Rick says he thins after the annual hailstorm that seems to come each year. They've planted habitat around the farm that provides food and shelter for beneficial insects that prey on orchard pests and pollinate the blossoms, and introduced alpacas, domesticated animals from South America, to provide fertilizer and wool that can be spun into yarn and sold at the markets. They're also building a kitchen on their farm that will enable them to can and sell the culls from their fruit crop each year. "Having a holistic approach opens up so many more options," says Marilyn. "If we had maintained a conventional type of farming many of these things would not even have been a consideration."

While as Rick points out, "there are many more clouds to come," the farm they have worked so hard to create has staying power. "Having that kind of diversified farm allows for your children to come back and find a niche in it if they choose to do so. So we're lucky – we know that all the hard work we put into this will stay with the family and the farm for a long time."

In North Central Washington, readers can find Rick and Marilynn Lynn and their Rama Farm crops at the Twisp Farmer's Market throughout August and most of September.

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Nancy Warner has spent the past 7 years getting to know the people and lands of North Central Washington. She lives in Wenatchee with her husband and two golden retrievers.