family background / Clayton is a first-generation farmer who returned to the Columbia Gorge after spending time working in industrial solar energy. He’s the son of Kristen and Jai Ringer.
grower/The Dalles, Oregon
crops/Pears, cherries, apples
How did you get your start?
I grew up in an area surrounded by cherry orchards, but I was never involved in agriculture until I went to high school and worked cherry harvest with some family friends.
When I went to college, one of the people I worked for recommended that I pursue agriculture.
When I returned home after school and was working in the energy business, I had an opportunity to manage orchards in Hood River, Oregon.
Why are you a grower?
It was in high school when I fell in love with the aspect of growing cherries.
Harvest really caught my eye. That crop sparked my interest and I wanted to learn more, asking my boss why certain things were done the way they were and how things worked.
At the time, I thought working in agriculture was something that was impossible for me, so I didn’t continue after college.
In hindsight, I wish I would have asked the question: “What can I do to make this career a possibility?”— showing my boss that I have an interest in farming and figuring out what I needed to do to continue doing what I love.
What has it been like to return?
My first week back was pretty intense. I went from harvesting as a kid to jumping into making sure the frost fans were up and running every night during the frost season.
This past year I’ve learned a lot, from handling frost, spray programs and prepping for harvest time. One of the things that surprised me was how many differences there are between working at a small farm, like when I was in high school, to now, where we’re farming over 1,000 acres of fruit.
One of those differences is the year-round work schedule on a large farm, compared to the smaller orchard.
People management is a big deal, considering that on a large farm you’ve got crews planting, managing frost and spraying, sometimes all in one period.
The smaller farm probably had three people for much of the year leading up until harvest.
What are some of the challenges and rewards?
Having only worked in cherries, there were some things I didn’t know transitioning to pears. I’d never dealt with fire blight. I didn’t even know what it was or that it could harm these trees.
It sometimes feels like we’re spraying for it nonstop in the spring. I never knew that I’d be up all night with the fans, then get a couple hours of sleep, wake up and turn off the fans and get to spraying.
I think if it’s something you care about, put your energy into it. With farming, you are creating and growing something — committing yourself to those trees to ensure they are healthy and produce.
It takes a lot of time and effort along with a fair share of risk, too. In the end, it feels good to grow something and has become a part of who I am.