Friday, February 6, 2015

Why I Farm: Tim Grow of Grow Fruit Farm, a Welch's Concord Grape Farm

Tim showing us the grapes!
Last fall I was invited to Washington state to meet Tim Grow's (can you believe that is really his name?) and to tour his Concord grape vineyard. I was with a group of Registered Dietitians and got to learn all about Concord Grapes. What a treat! Tim also agreed to be featured in my Why I Farm blog. The pictures are mine from when I visited. Thanks, Tim!

What is the name of your farm? Does that have any special significance?
My farm name is: Grow Fruit, when we originally purchased our farm it had a few apples and cherries along with the grapes. Many farmers use a portion of their name as part of the business name. My Father already was using Grow Farms.

Where is your farm? What do you grow or produce?
My farm is located in SE Washington state, the lower Yakima Valley. I currently farm only Concord Grapes for Welch’s. Concord grapes are mainly grown here in Washington, as well as in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and in select locations within Canada. This is due to the unique soil and climate needed for the Concord grape to thrive. The conditions need to be just right to create the perfect Concord grape, which is a unique and hardy grape with seeds and a thick, dark purple skin.

Tell me about your farm.
My farm is about 250 acres of Concord Grapes which I grow for Welch’s. In fact, I’m one of Welch’s family-farmer owners. Many people don’t know this, but Welch’s isn’t a big corporation, but a cooperative of about 1,000 family farmers, many of whom have been working land that’s been in their families for generations. I currently farm approximately 110 acres of my Father’s farm which I lease and the remaining 140 acres I own.

Do you produce food year round?
We work on the farm year around, but the harvest season for Concord grapes is fairly short – just a few weeks in the fall. Our growing season starts in late March usually and the vineyard is ready for harvest by late September through October.

Have you always been a farmer?
My fondest childhood memories were helping my Grandparents on their farm after school. Spending time with them working in the vineyard never really seemed like work. Since they lived just down the street I was able to spend hours with them. They were Welch's growers as well. I had the opportunity to go to college and obtain a degree but I guess I have always been a farmer at heart. There is great satisfaction in owning a business: making decisions, solving problems and enjoying the cycle of the growing season. It seems to me there is great value in seeing the fruits of one’s labor. I purchased my  first farm in the early 1980’s.

What do you wish more folks knew about farming in general?
I would dare not speak about farming in general because such a topic is so broad. I can talk about Concord grapes and the farmers which grow those grapes for Welch’s. I think your readers would be interested to know that Welch growers are family farmers, not corporations. They farm Concord and Niagara grapes that have been in their families for generations, in some cases. Welch growers I know are wonderful stewards of the land and value sustainable farming practices to maintain the land for future generations. Welch farmers understand and value quality; they realize they are sharing part of themselves in each grape they grow and sell. This is why we pick and deliver our grapes to the processing plant within an eight hour timeframe to help preserve the grape’s flavor and nutrition. Your readers might also be interested to know that Welch’s 100% Grape Juice is made with no added sugar and is a great way to add more fruit to the diet. More than 40 Concord grapes go into each cup of Welch’s 100% Grape Juice.

What do you wish more people know about your farm, specifically?
My farm is special to me because it is where I have invested my life’s work, raised my family, Welch’s and my farm are a tie to my Grandparents and parents life work: it is my heritage.

What are your future plans for your farm?
My plans are to continue working on the farm as long as I am physically able. I plan to continue on growing my farm as opportunities present themselves with the hopes that one day my children will have the  opportunity to farm for Welch’s and have a heritage of their own to treasure.

Where can people buy your products?
The Concord grape is a regional and seasonal berry. So the best way to find my Concord grapes all year is by looking for Welch’s jams, jellies and juices in a store near you.

Tim, thank you so much for the tour and the interview - I learned so much! As an added bonus, on the way home from this trip I had a very important question asked of me....I said yes :)

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