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Placing employee stability at the core of farming

FirstFruits apple orchard


Prescott, Washington State, U.S.

Under cultivation:

6,800 acres of apples and cherries

Annual production:

~450,000 bins (~200,000 tons)

Apples are big business in Washington State. Almost two-thirds of the apples produced in the U.S. come from there, and the sector generates US$7.5 billion for the state economy, according to the Washington State Tree Fruit Association. And one of the biggest producers in the state is FirstFruits Farms LLC, a 40-year-old vertically integrated grower of apples and cherries that Ontario Teachers’ acquired in 2019. FirstFruits operates three locations, including the Prescott Orchard, which at 4,600 contiguous acres is one of the largest orchards in the U.S.

photo of FirstFruits orchards

Focusing on attracting and retaining staff

Harvesting fruit is a labour-intensive business. And in addition to growing and picking 11 apple and 6 cherry varieties (organic and conventionally grown), FirstFruits handles storage, packing, and sales and marketing for its production. Attracting and retaining staff is a key issue for such a big operation, which employs more than 2,500 workers at peak season and about 1,000 full-time employees the rest of the year. That’s a challenge that FirstFruits started taking seriously decades ago.

Offering supports including daycare and housing

To promote retention and wellbeing, the company started an onsite daycare in its early years, then realized some of its workers had trouble accessing stable housing in the area. That prompted the company to build a community to help those workers. Today, FirstFruits offers permanent and affordable housing for 134 families and to temporary accommodation for seasonal workers. In addition to housing and childcare, the company offers educational supports, including language classes for employees and university scholarships and farm internships for children of employees.

FirstFruits' Prescott Orchard is

one of the largest

in the U.S.

This is a community. When employees take pride in living in a place like this, it shows in everything they do.

Eva Madrigal
Housing Manager, FirstFruits Community LLC
photo of FirstFruits farmers