During the Washington State Tree Fruit Association Annual Meeting banquet on Dec. 6, the association recognized outstanding contributors to the apple and pear industry with its Silver Apple and Silver Pear awards and also recognized industry dedication with the Distinguished Service Award and the Latino Leadership Award.
Doug England, longtime Manson Growers general manager and father of the meeting chair, Jared England, presented the Silver Apple Award to Todd Cameron, the owner of Cameron Nursery, citing his relationships with other nurseries, variety owners and breeding programs to improve the supplies available to the industry.
“Todd has traveled the world looking for equipment and techniques to improve the nursery,” England said.
Cameron started his career working for his father, who first ran a nursery at Broetje Orchards that grew to become an independent business. Over the years, Cameron continued growing the business and eventually brought his own children, Allison and Eric, into running it. But recently, with the softening of industry demand, Cameron made the difficult decision to scale down the nursery operations.
“Looking at who has been given this award in the past, I’m so honored and humbled,” Cameron said. “I’m a vendor, and without all of you, I would have been nowhere; and without my staff, I would have been nowhere. I appreciate all the support from everyone.”
England presented the Silver Pear Award to Geoff Thornton, the owner of Bronze Star orchards, which produces pears on more than 200 acres in the Okanogan region.
Since his first harvest in 1986, Thornton has been active in the industry, serving turns as the president of the Okanogan County Horticultural Association, the president of the Growers Clearing House, and as an early board member for the Washington Apple Education Foundation, England said.
“I’ve never received an award that means this much,” Thornton said, recalling the growers he looked up to early in his career, including Grady Auvil, TK Mathison, Fred Valentine, Mel Crowder and Doyle Fleming and George Ing. “I hope there’s some young ones coming along that I can be as good to as George Ing and many others were to me.”
While he grows apples as well, the pear industry has always felt like family, he said.
The Distinguished Service Award, recognizing long-lasting impacts on the industry, was presented to longtime horticulturist Bob Gix. Gix worked in the industry for almost 40 years, first at Blue Bird and then for 31 years at Blue Star Growers, helping growers produce high-quality, pest-free crops.
“Bob loves learning, working with people and is truly passionate about helping the growers produce the best possible fruit,” England said. “Bob took a lot of slings and arrows for speaking hard truths to the industry while in his leadership positions, but he has always responded with grace and kept his eye on the goal.”
Gix, who recently retired, was a leader in many industry research and policy efforts and still serves on the Pear Research Committee.
“There’s so many people who made so much difference,” Gix said of his career in the industry. “And as I look to the future, there’s so many people that are going to make so much more difference.”
WSTFA education director Jacqui Gordon Nuñez read a tribute to Latino Leadership Award winner Bernardita Sallato, whose award was presented during a Spanish-language session earlier in the day. Sallato is originally from Chile and joined Washington State University Extension as a tree fruit specialist in 2018.
“You probably have seen Bernardita at her field days, doing research at WSU, or conducting farm tours, giving presentations, or maybe even digging a huge hole in your orchards to see how healthy are your soils and tree roots,” Gordon Nuñez said. “There is no question that her contribution to the education of the industry, whether delivered in English or Spanish, has been invaluable.”
During the presentation of the award in the Spanish session, Sallato said she shares her success with the growers and farmworkers who have opened their doors so she can learn from their experience. Yes, she works with tree roots, and also with farmworkers, who are the root system that supports this industry.
Last, but certainly not least, Good Fruit Grower Managing Editor Shannon Dininny presented the magazine’s Grower of the Year award to the McDougall family of McDougall and Sons: Scott, Stuart, Bryon and Matt.
“You don’t win these kinds of awards without having good, solid people with you,” Scott McDougall said. “That’s a large part of the reason we are up here right now. We all collectively have a passion for what we do, so it hasn’t been hard to share as well as learn.”
Read more about the McDougalls in our December issue, now online at: “Building their legacy: McDougall and Sons, 2022 Good Fruit Growers of the Year.”
—by Kate Prengaman