Mark Clayton was destined to be a farmer. His parents were raised on wheat and cattle farms, and turned to apple farming in the 1960s. In the small town of Orondo, Washington, Mark grew up on his family’s farm, which is alongside the gorgeous Columbia River and nestled at the foot of the majestic Cascade Mountains.
Growing up in the family orchards, only once did he question whether or not this was the life for him. “There was a brief time as a young man where I wanted to get off of the farm. I did that, and then realized that I was going to be happier at home on the farm,” says Mark.
The 265 acres that Mark farms today is where his parents planted their first apple trees in 1967. In the late 1990s, Mark adopted organic farming practices and has been a part of the Washington State Department of Agriculture Organic Program. According to Mark, this has been a fantastic partnership. “It’s worked so well for us. The organization ensures that we know what products we can work with, and helps us to overcome the obstacles in organic farming.”
His experience and efforts in organic farming must have paid off, because his orchards are supplying the Auvil Fruit Company with their first organic apple product line, “Grady’s Organics.” And we all know that not just any piece of fruit can bear the world renowned Auvil name.
Early in 2017, the conversation started about forming a partnership. For Mark, it was an easy decision to team up with Auvil. Mark notes, “They’ve been farming here in Orondo for over 100 years and I’ve grown up next to them. Auvil has the reputation for high quality and really emphasize the flavor of their products. They were looking for organic tonnage, and I have it. I know some of the staff there on a personal level, and it was really easy to decide to come together to do this.”
It’s been a whirlwind year getting the partnership and new product line off of the ground, and it’s a dream come true for Mark. “We’re getting to know each other and it’s been eye opening to see just how cooperative Auvil is and how much they are willing to partner with me. It came together really fast, I think because I was so excited.”
The first harvest for Grady’s Organics starts mid to late August with varieties including Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, Golden and Braeburn, providing about 10,000 bins of apples. Mark is ready to get started, “I can’t wait until the first day were actually running the organic fruit over the line so we can see how well that fruit looks and packs out.”
He’s also excited about the quality of the crops that to be harvested. “We’ve had a really nice year. Not much frost in the spring, which is good for us as growers. We can lose a lot of fruit due to those chilly nights in the spring. The other thing is we’ve had a lot of good warm days for fruit sizing and haven’t had too many days of extreme temperatures.”
This is just the beginning of what Mark believes will be a long and viable partnership for organic products. “It’s really a good market that will continue to grow. With Auvil’s reputation, they get a premium in the market place, which is just wonderful to a grower.”
And Mark is already planning for future crops, ensuring that his organic apples are always the highest in quality, and deserve to bear the name of Grady’s Organics. “Each year, we take all of the resources we have available, whether it’s the new varieties or the land, and the different soils and qualities it will have and try to bring it all together in such a way that we have a consistent crop year after year of high quality fruit.”
The future looks bright for Mark Clayton and his partnership with Auvil. Mark says, “Honestly, this has been the neatest opportunity of my career. I don’t think I’ve been this optimistic ever going into a harvest season!”
Grady’s Organics will be available at retailers nationwide this September through the Christmas holiday season.
Grady’s Organics. Harvested at the peak of flavor. Hand selected from our family to yours.