family background/Adrian is a fifth-generation farmer pursuing a horticulture degree at Wenatchee Valley College. He has two brothers, John and Ian, and is the son of Diana and John Heffron.
crops/cherries and apples
How did you get your start?
Some of my earliest memories were of going around with my dad on the four-wheeler, changing water. As I got older, we didn’t have video games or anything, I’d just want to go to my friend’s house and play. My parents were the type who would say, “go dig a hole” or “go play outside.” But looking back, it was great working on the farm.
I loved it and it made me who I am. I like nature and like being outside. We’re on Snipes Mountain, and the hill is our life and kind of shaped us. We’re the hillbillies out here. Running a family farm these days is tough. This is all I’ve ever known, and I don’t want it to disappear. I want my kids to one day enjoy the hill and get the joy out of this hill like I did.
Have you found a horticulture education helpful?
What we’re learning in college definitely does apply to what I’m doing at home, because it seems our classes are always out in the orchards. So far, I’d say we’re spending about a 60/40 split in the classroom to out in the orchard.
When I return home, I’ve been able to see the difference between the book side and the hands-on side. I learned a lot in both places. Taking what I learned at school and incorporating those practices here at the farm is when the classroom stuff stuck. There were new things in class that I didn’t learn at home, like going out to different farms and seeing pruning styles.
I can bring this back to our farm, apply it and see the results from it. School’s been good, and I’d definitely tell others to do it. Even if you don’t think you’re learning a lot there, just wait two or three years down the road and you’ll be using that knowledge hands-on and seeing the results with your eyes. It’s made a difference.
What challenges are you working through now?
Our farm isn’t huge and can’t sustain all our families, so I had to look elsewhere and found an opportunity at Simplot as a trainee agronomist. I’m still working on the farm after work, doing planning and talking with workers. I’m really enjoying working with Simplot.
A good thing about a small family farm is that I can do both. I think working two jobs is going to be how small farms make it in the future, with an extra income on the side.
Another factor is how hard it is for people in my generation to find farms this size and be able to make a living off of it — those days are gone. As much as we don’t want to accept it, we have to.
What crops do you enjoy growing?
I like growing cherries. It’s easier than apples, I think. First off, you’re pretty much done in July. It’s pretty intense in April, May and June and then harvest is over. Also, I feel like everything’s not trying to kill cherries. I’m out working in the apples twice as much as the cherries.
I’m still young and have a lot to learn, though. We have freestanding and trellis systems for our cherries, and I prefer a freestanding tree because you can mold it to what you want it to be. The trellis systems also work great, but you’re always having to renew the wood, so it can be a hassle on the pruning and upkeep side.
What advice would you give other young growers?
Listen to older generations about this industry. We’re maybe 10 years away from a big transition, and there’s a lot of knowledge that’s going away. They aren’t going to be here to teach you. Take the opportunity now to reach out, sit down on your computer, cold call people with your questions. I’ve done it and at first, when I’d ask for tips and stuff, I’d stutter and such.
Eventually, it’s gotten easier. Now I can talk with someone and get an answer to my questions. If you go into school, try to learn about technology and bookkeeping. I’m not good at it, but those two fields can help figure out new ways to cut costs on a farm.
Also, be aware of the changes in the industry – it’s always changing. Companies will be hiring younger people and the jobs are out there, you just have to look for them.