family background/ Spouses Haley and Patrick are both third-generation apple and pear growers who each graduated from Washington State University: Haley with a degree in accounting and Patrick with a degree in agricultural technology management. Haley’s parents are Belinda and Gary Grillo and Patrick’s are Rhonda and Raymond Colbert.
age/ Patrick, 35, and Haley, 30
hometown/ Tonasket, Washington
crops/ Apples and pears
role/ Owners, growers
business/ Colbert Orchards

How did you get your start?
Haley: I grew up farming, and I have a love for being outside and the childhood that I was provided. Working alongside my parents and going to school for accounting was helpful for our family businesses because I was able to do a lot of the bookwork and payroll — not only for our farm but for my parents’ family farm as well.

Even though I didn’t get an education in agriculture, I feel like the education that I did bring home is beneficial to us here in our life. I want to provide that life for our children.

Patrick: I knew that I wanted to go into agriculture from a young age. I loved growing up on a family farm. I went to college, got an education in agriculture, and came back.

My first summer out of college, my dad had cancer. I was thrust into a leadership position and took over that fall and continued growing the farm from there.

What was it like coming back and helping manage right out of college?
Patrick: There were so many aspects of farming that I had no idea about. Things that my dad probably shielded me from. So, when I came back from college, it was on-the-job-training for orcharding, not from a textbook standpoint.

It was a difficult transition, and I made a lot of mistakes along the way. But I kept going and we kept making better decisions that got us to where we are today.

Haley: I would say it was overwhelming. I was still in school when Patrick graduated. When he took over the farm, I came home and continued my education through WSU online. He needed me for bookkeeping and helping around the farm.

I got thrown into the midst of all of it and took over a lot of bookwork and payroll and things that I had not yet even gotten to learn in school.

I worked with a lot of wonderful people in our community who have stepped up and helped me learn a lot of the things that we needed to know. Not only was I getting educated in school, but I was also getting an education by just doing the work.

What were some of those business decisions that helped?
Patrick: The biggest thing that we relied upon is relationships within the grower community. Having horticultural experience is only one tiny aspect of farming. I think some of the biggest learnings were about what varieties the markets want to sell and how you manage the growth of your farm.

Growth is incredibly hard without borrowing tremendous amounts of money. We have been fortunate not to borrow money. My grandpa told my dad never be an orchardist and never borrow money from the bank, and my dad did both of those.

Fortunately, we have not borrowed money from the bank, but we did follow our love and we’re going to be orchardists rain or shine.

Haley: I think we were fortunate to take over a company that was in good standing. When Raymond got sick and we took over the business, it was doing well. We were able to take what he started and continue to grow and expand from that.

What advice do you have for other young growers?
Patrick: I think the biggest piece of advice I’d give a young or a new grower is to build relationships within our community of growers. Find someone who grows near you and learn what they have learned. Don’t go through the school of hard knocks.

Older farmers are approachable, and 99 percent of them are really, really good, honest, straightforward people who are willing to give the shirt off their back to help you succeed.

Haley: I realized how very little we knew starting out. Even as the third generation, I was doing my jobs and I was contributing and I was being extremely helpful, but I knew very little about the actual undertaking of managing the farm.

I didn’t know finances, or even the cost of the spray bill. All that stuff is above your paygrade as a kid. I wish I would have learned more when I was younger and tried to take in as much information as I could from my family about the underworking of the farm, because that’s the stuff that’s going to help you later on in your career.