family background/ Ely is a fourth-generation farmer in the Champlain Valley and graduated from Cornell University with a degree in agribusiness. He is the son of Barbara and Craig Giroux and farms along with his four siblings.
age/ 27
hometown/ Chazy, New York
crop/ apples
role/ operations manager
business/ Chazy Orchards

How did you get your start?
I grew up in a farming family, and we were originally in chicken farming. From a young age, I wanted to work on the farm and, after studying business, I came back to work with my four siblings trying to run the farm. I’ve found there’s a few similarities between raising chickens and growing apples, and one is the long hours working at the farm.

When I started working in apples, I was 13 years old and I was pretty unfamiliar with the whole world of apple production. I started working in pruning first. We were out in the field learning where to cut, how to fix the tree, all about the physiology of how a tree works and how cuts affect it.

As I’ve done it year after year, you kind of get a feel for it and see how your pruning, thinning and tying your trees affects the trees year to year.

What did you learn in college?
When I was at home, I did a lot of field work — all of the jobs that gave me a good feel of how an orchard works and the apple production process. When I went to college, I had a goal to help run the family business.

So, I pursued a business degree, that way I could take all the pieces I learned in the field and apply it in managing the farm.

I could show other people how to do the jobs, and I’d get the basics on how to move things forward and make positive steps to improve the business.

What were your agribusiness courses like?
In Cornell’s agribusiness program, they have a variety of classes, not just specialty agriculture classes. I learned the most from classes where we were working towards a goal such as making a business plan. In a specific project, we had to make a plan to buy a pelletizer to make pellets out of raw material.

Working with the other people and working off of each other’s strengths and seeing how each player in our group contributed really taught me a lot. And as I’ve gone into my career, it’s that teamwork project that taught me some of the best skills.

What do you do in your career now?
I bounce around between a few things as an operations manager. Most of my time I spend in the pack house, which is really my bread and butter. That’s what I like to do the most, but I’ve also spent time in cold storage and out in the field.

I really enjoy what I do in my job. It provides a wide breadth of things to do, trying to get an idea of the bigger picture, and I like the variety of it. One of the biggest challenges is meeting the needs of the customer and what they want.

So, every day we work with our packing machine, which looks inside the apples. It looks for browning, external defects and internal defects to find the perfect apples for our customers. Every day we’re iterating, trying to get our machines and our packing line to filter what we want.

What advice do you have for young growers?
I definitely think internships are a good idea for someone who wants to work in apples or fruit or just agriculture in general. When I was in college, I took a couple of internships.

One was in media, and then I did an ag internship. For me, I learned a lot about other businesses, how they work, seeing how they structure their people and how their teams work together. Internships give you a different perspective than what you grew up with on your family’s farm, because you only had that one experience.

Going and seeing other companies was definitely a good experience to compare and contrast. You’ll be able to learn how they fill out column A and a little bit from column B, to see what you think works on your farm. It teaches you a lot about different industries and gives you a wider breadth of knowledge to go forward in your career.