The late Bert Stevens, Mr. August, in a one-man, cherry pit spitting contest.
When a local restaurant owner asked Brian McCormick if he’d be willing to be photographed working nude in his orchard, he agreed without hesitation.
Suzi Conklin, entrepreneur and owner of the Wildflower Café in Mosier, Oregon, came up with the idea of producing a calendar featuring 12 local cherry growers working nude as a fundraiser for the Mosier Community School.
“I thought it was a titillating affair,” commented McCormick, Mr. May. “We’re relatively new to this area, so it was nice to be included.”
The town of Mosier—population 454—needs to raise $100,000 a year to keep the century-old school open, as it’s now a charter school. Tired of trying to raise a few dollars here and there through various fundraisers such as bake sales, Conklin tried to think of something that would bring in a lot of money all at once.
A group of middle-aged Women’s Institute members in Yorkshire, England, were probably the first to use this fundraising technique about seven years ago. The group had been producing a calendar each year of picturesque scenes of Yorkshire. When the husband of one of the women died of leukemia, the group decided to make an alternative calendar featuring pictures of themselves in the nude. They hoped to sell a few hundred copies to raise money for leukemia research, but the calendar became a worldwide sensation and was inspiration for the movie Calendar Girls. The women have raised more than a million pounds (almost $2 million) to date.
McCormick, 36, worked for a vineyard management company in Sonoma, California, before moving to Mosier with his family in 2002. He grows organic wine grapes, cherries, and pears, and has enjoyed small-town life and being part of the grower community. He confesses some surprise at first when the flashy calendar was proposed.
“The whole project sounded highfalutin’ for Mosier—it’s not a very ritzy place,” he said. “But Suzi brings that kind of energy to it.”
The Mosier area, about six miles east of Hood River, has about a thousand acres of cherries, and most of its growers are featured in the calendar. About half the men were students at the Mosier elementary school, and several have children or grandchildren who attend. McCormick is a school board member.
McCormick said he was one of the lucky ones because his picture was taken in the spring, when it was warm, rather than in the dormant season.
His wife was amused by the whole thing, but his sons, aged four and eight, were puzzled when he took off his clothes and climbed a ladder to scout for bugs. After watching for about half an hour, they inquired, “Why’s Dad naked in a tree?”
Conklin said the growers wore bathrobes until it was time to shoot the pictures, and a couple of the men were shocked to learn that they had to remove all their clothes, but then went ahead.
Bryce Molesworth, 63, said the experience was fun, though driving his tractor with no clothes on is “probably not going to be an everyday occurrence.”
“It didn’t bother us that much,” he said, confessing that he actually kept on his shoes. “Obviously, all of us did it voluntarily. I just think it shows that we’re community-minded, and we’re doing what we can to promote our local school. We all did it in a spirit of good fun.”
Sadly, Bert Stevens, who is pictured in a lounge chair eating cherries and spitting out the pits, didn’t get to see the calendar published. He died last year from cancer and heart problems.
Such calendars are now fairly commonplace, Conklin said, because they’re a good way to raise money and have some fun. But she feels the Mosier calendar is special because all the men featured—who range in age from thirties to seventies— are from a small community, and it also gives the cherry industry good exposure. “This takes it to another level,” she said.
The response from the community has been tremendous, she added. At a launch party at her café in May, the men autographed calendars and sold 400 copies.
“They’re becoming famous,” she said.
McCormick said the person who designed the calendar said his picture was a favorite because he looked so natural it gave the appearance that he farms like that all the time.
Bruce Forster, a professional photographer in Portland, Oregon, took the photographs.
“Everybody thinks it’s great,” said Molesworth (Mr. February) who’s endured some ribbing, but also received a lot of positive feedback. “Maybe Hollywood will call,” he mused.
The school did receive one letter of complaint, however.
“There’s a little controversy around it, but from my experience, the majority of the people are pretty tickled with it,” said Conklin, who hopes they’ll raise at least $50,000 from the 6,000 calendars printed. “I think it has the potential for more, depending on how well we market it.”
Alongside each picture is a brief biography of the grower and one of Conklin’s cherry recipes.
Molesworth, who is chair of the Oregon Sweet Cherry Commission, said the calendar is good publicity for the cherry industry. “People don’t have to buy it for the pictures, but for the recipes,” he suggested.
Other growers featured are: Wade Root, Peter Kinsey, Bill Reeves, Phil Evans, Don Evans, Forrest Evans, Grant Wilson, Leonardo Vega, and Darin Molesworth.
Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, and an online calendar catalogue are selling it. The 2007 Mosier Cherry Farmers Calendar can also be purchased at the Web site www.mosierschool.com/calendar. The cost is $14.95, and all proceeds will go to the school. The calendar is dedicated to Bert Stevens.