family background / Kelsey’s family farm is nestled in the hills of Washington’s upper Wenatchee Valley, where they grow fresh market pears. She studied agricultural economics at Washington State University and is one of four daughters of Terry and Kerry Twitchell.
How did you get your start?
I grew up in the orchard, especially in the mud. I was always curious and loved climbing trees, hiking and being out there. Dad would come in for lunch on his lunch break and I’d always want to go back out in the field with him.
The orchard is what I knew. My first job was to clean sprinkler valves, getting all the mud and leaves out. I just thought he was giving me the dirty, bottom-of-the-line job.
What I didn’t realize was dad was teaching me about the water system.
He wanted me to learn where all the valves were at, so I knew how they worked and where the water was coming from. It’s a job I still enjoy doing to this day.
How did you learn about pursuing ag in college?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do exactly, but whatever it was, I wanted it to be in agriculture.
I liked the field-level jobs in horticulture. So in college, I learned I was one of the weird ones who enjoyed math.
One of the school counselors suggested I go into ag economics. I jumped into it not knowing what I was going to get out of it.
I ended up liking the management classes; however I figured out I wasn’t going to be doing the data mining part of the job, sitting at a desk. It was going to drive me crazy.
How have those lessons paid off when you returned?
Throughout college, I returned home in the summers to work.
Then one summer, I was handed a lovely white binder and was told that it was my new job and that I needed to read the whole thing.
I got about half-way through and I realized it was something that had to be done because it was our new food safety program for the farm. Now, running that program is one of my jobs.
What changes to the farm are you hoping for?
A lot of the pear plantings in the area are very old. The area is known by other growers as the valley of the dinosaur trees.
With growing pears, we aren’t under the same pressures as apple growers to rip out our blocks and plant the new up-and-coming variety.
For us, it’s always been D’Anjou, Bartlett and Bosc. I am interested in the new dwarfing pear rootstocks being developed.
When researchers get that nailed down, I believe that it will really change the pear industry. Looking ahead, if we were going to make a change it would be because of the dwarfing rootstock.
Combine that with switching to high density where we might be able to pick more per acre. If recent developments show promise, that’s where I would step in as the next generation to change the farm.
Why are you a farmer?
Farming is one of those things that by about July — maybe it’s just me — that I’m mentally done with farming.
The summer is when I put my head down and just keep on going. Then harvest begins rolling in and I realize how much I enjoy the work.
I love the full swing of harvest and then before I know it, it’s winter, then spring, and I do it all over again. The reward in being a farmer is you can sit down at the end of each day and see your progress.
What would you tell younger growers?
Farming can be very difficult. I’m only a 100-acre grower — I can’t imagine having hundreds or thousands of acres to manage.
Our 100-acre orchard is a lot of work, so I’d tell young growers to keep sticking with it. If farming is something that you’re interested in and is something you like to do, keep going at it.
You’ll get into a rhythm and you’ll adjust to the seasonal patterns. If you have that want and that drive, just keep pushing through when you get tired. It’s rewarding at the end of the day.