The Organic Trade Association, based in Brattleboro, VT, has named Kyle Mathison, Stemilt Growers co-owner and grower, as its Organic Farmer of the Year for 2013.
Mathison, 60, farms apples, pears and cherries on Stemilt Hill in Wenatchee, WA, and also has cherry farms in Bakersfield, CA, and Chile. He has been farming fruit organically since the late 1980s and was one of the first organic growers to use an integrated organic program in his orchards. He also deploys innovative farming techniques, such as the use of fish oil and compost, in order to grow his fruit.
"It's an honor to be recognized by the Organic Trade Association with this national award," Mathison said in a press release. "This is the result of a team effort. I wouldn't be anything without my two sons, West and Tate, and the entire Stemilt team of dedicated and hardworking people. I'm blessed to work with my family and friends in the ever-changing tree fruit industry."
In addition to farming apples, pears, and cherries organically, Mathison has a multi-acre compost farm to feed his conventional and organic orchard. The compost farm, located on Stemilt Hill, takes in 100 percent of the green waste from his orchards and Stemilt packing facilities in order to regenerate it into nutrient-rich and organic fertilizer that feeds trees. Mathison believes that compost is one way to grow premium-quality fruit consistently.
Mathison was selected for the award based on his innovative approach to farming organic and conventional fruit, as well as his commitment to advancing the tree fruit industry. In addition to composting Stemilt green waste, he opened an organic recycling center in Wenatchee for local residents and businesses to deliver their green waste to. The waste is then turned into compost. He applies liquid fish oil on his trees in order to increase predator insect populations and inserts large numbers of insect predators into his practices in order to reduce sprays.
Mathison has also served for many years on the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission and has helped advance solutions in the areas of orchard weed control, organic fertilizer, integrated pest control, organic chemical bloom thinning, fire blight organic control and organic foliar nutrient applications.
Mathison will be formally recognized with the national award on Sept. 25 at OTA's Annual Awards Celebration at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. There he'll joins the ranks of organic pioneers like Drew and Myra Goodman of Earthbound Farm, and fellow Stemilt grower Ray Fuller, who won the Organic Farming Leadership award in 2008.