Dain Craver, the 2019 Good Fruit Grower of the Year, doesn’t do anything by half. He’s got big ideas about organic agriculture, big business ambitions, and big hair. Yes, his hair — flowing gray locks past his shoulders — is one of the first things people notice.
“I get enough crap from the industry about my hair,” Craver said with a laugh. But it fits right in with his unconventional, exuberant approach to everything from controlling pests to community sports.
The Royal City, Washington, orchardist grew up in Southern California and briefly dipped into the world of professional skateboarding. He never shed the persona, nor the hair, which he periodically cuts and donates to “Locks of Love” — a charity that makes wigs for children in need. Black-and-white pictures from his days at Washington State University show a shirtless young man with poofy hair pulling handstands and board grabs on the brick courtyards of Pullman.
He still has his board, an old-school Gordon and Smith deck with Tracker trucks and Kryptonics wheels, all plastered with red Washington Apple stickers. He’s been known to ride in the Royal City Community Days parade and to don the old Washington Apple Commission “Crispy” costume and skateboard in front of grocery stores to promote his proprietary cultivar, Rosa Lynn.
Coaching sports is another one of his favorite hobbies. He has coached high school varsity baseball and softball. Some of his daughters were on the softball team. His third-grade Grid Kids football team, which includes his grandson, Britt Wardenaar, finished the 2019 season undefeated.
Craver has his own signature plays, which boys end up begging their middle school and high school coaches to let them try in games, said Wiley Allred, the head coach of the Royal City High School Knights, one of the state’s storied small-school programs. Craver’s energy is infectious, Allred said, and that enthusiasm transfers from the football field to the farm, where Craver has hired many of his former players.
“Young people, they are attracted to and want to be around people who are happy and love what they are doing,” said Allred, who also owns an apple farm.
Craver also has become one of Royal City’s biggest boosters. In fact, he convinced many of his packing companies to match donations for field turf at the high school, convincing them that their employees’ kids will use that surface.
Enthusiasm helps in the tree fruit business, too, where he approaches work with confidence and curiosity. Bryon McDougall, packing coordinator for McDougall & Sons in Wenatchee, credits Craver for making an effort to understand the whole supply chain, from nursery stock to sales. In grower meetings, Craver usually asks most of the questions.
“Dealing with growers who have that all-around knowledge of the industry, from my perspective, is great,” McDougall said.
—by Ross Courtney