family background / Cherie and Danae are new tree fruit growers with their brothers, Trevor and Taylor Perrault. Both graduated from Central Washington University and are daughters of Tina and Tim Perrault.

age/ Danae (on left), 36, and Cherie, 35
grower/ Yakima Valley, Washington
crops/ Stone fruit and cherries
business/ Lateral Roots Farm

How did you get your start?
Cherie: We were lucky enough to be raised on a hop farm where we got our first lessons in agriculture — hard work, commitment to your crop and seeing it through. We represent the fifth generation of farmers in our family here in the Yakima Valley, and the first generation of soft fruit farmers, and we’re so very excited for the challenge. There’s so much to learn.

Danae: Growing up on a farm we learned that everything changes each season, giving you opportunities to learn something better or different, or to do the best that you can.

Why did you buy a tree fruit farm?
Cherie: We had the opportunity to by this farm and it was a quick process where my dad talked with us siblings about an opportunity to purchase a farm. Without hesitation all four of us said absolutely. But what that meant was looking at the whole business — from the homes, cold storage and acreage with a variety of fruit.

Then talking to banks, to people in ag that we look up to for advice, how to put together a budget, figure out our expenses. We needed to learn how we could go about buying this farm, and that involved reaching out to a lot of people that have been in ag their whole life. Before this, I remember feeling like I had everything figured out and was carving my way into the world, however I had to humble myself to get advice and financial support. It was a tough thing to do.

Danae: We had to do those things, all the while proving we can do all the things we say we can do. It’s not just a piece of paper. The outcome of our actions is going to play out in front of all of these people, and we need to follow through with our plans.

Cherie: All of that process was fast and furious. The former farm owner was ready to retire and that year was the final crop he wanted to raise. As a family we had to work pretty fast on the process. When you’re bringing four siblings together that have their own families and children, there’s a lot to be talked about.

There’s also a process to put into place to make sure everyone is happy, taken care of and agrees. We had to sort out the contingencies if something happened and how do we handle something — all the planning for things that could occur was a big part.

What challenges are you facing?
Cherie: The crop isn’t going to wait on you. There are jobs and responsibilities that need to happen at the appropriate time. To do that it involves early mornings — really early mornings. The job involves working and managing people that we rely on, making sure their needs are met. It’s staying up late putting together budgets for the farm. It’s also adapting to the times.

We purchased this farm in 2018, and since then we’ve come across some major diseases affecting the stone fruit industry. We’re watching as major legislative bills are being made that could drastically change agriculture. We’re working through a pandemic. There have been some real challenges since then, but you don’t get to take a time-out, you have to just keep moving forward.

Danae: Facing those challenges isn’t new — we’ve seen that growing up. Dad never had sick days. He wasn’t home sick, because he had to show up to work. The water must be changed, or the frost control schedule has to be monitored and harvest has to happen. When you’re responsible for the farm, you have to show up every day.

Why are you a farmer?
Cherie: One of the biggest benefits of working in agriculture has been exposing my children to ag and what it’s like growing up on a farm and letting them decide if it’s for them or not. We get the chance to show them what ag is, not what you read about in a magazine.

This is the real, hands-on work that impacts the food chain. This is you showing what sustainability and good agricultural practices look like. This is an opportunity to give a voice for an industry. Those are things that excite me the most about being a farmer.

Danae: Another reward is being able to see the results of your hard work at harvest. It is so cool to see a truck loaded full of boxes that you’ve packed in the field ship out. Being able to go out to see your fruit in the stores and know there’s more than just big corporate farms means so much. This is our small family farm, and that fruit represents our everyday life.

What advice do you have for young growers?
Danae: One of the things I’d recommend to young growers is to always look at the big picture, because farming can be a roller coaster. You’ll have ups and downs. For instance, nearly two years after taking over the farm, we discovered we had some trees with Western X disease that threatens the industry. But as a family we were calm, and we figured out what’s next.

Cherie: At our farm, we field pack most of our fruit and sell it direct. It’s a huge logistics challenge and so it’s all on us. We don’t get to deliver bins of fruit to a warehouse and let them figure the rest out. I’m looking at what our consumers want, what are they buying, and trying things out. If you are looking to build your business with a niche, specialty market crop, look for that one thing that can take your fruit quality to the next level.

—TJ Mullinax