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Broetje Orchards: homegrown family business expanding

WALLA WALLA COUNTY, Wash. - Roger Bairstow is from Connecticut.

“Then I met a beautiful woman, who happened to be the oldest daughter of Ralph and Cheryl Broetje,” he said, smiling.

He’s now a transplant of the Eastern Washington family, working as HR Director for Broetje Orchards in Walla Walla County.

The orchard started small in 1968 in Benton City, later expanding to locations in Wallula, Burbank, and Prescott.

“We’re the largest employer in the county,” Bairstow explained.

The family-owned business ships up to seven million boxes of apples every year, five-percent of the nation’s supply.

“[This is] our sorting machine,” yells Tyler Broetje over the whir of conveyer belts. The packing facility spans several city blocks, a steady stream of apples churning to all corners of the room.

“All the apples dropping are…the good apples being sorted out,” Tyler Broetje explained.

He is the youngest son of the owners Ralph and Cheryl Broetje, the family dedicated to helping their 1,300 fulltime employees stay on top. At peak harvest season, 2,800 people work here.

Dozens of workers stand near the edge of the spinning belts, apples coming to them with state of the art technology.

“It takes a picture in a 3D image…the infrared,” Tyler said, pointing to the head of the line. “Of every apple.”

The company is now investing about $50 million in the facility, adding packing robots to the shipment line.

According to Tyler Broetje, the new machines will serve as tools to help workers get more done, without cutting into the workforce.

“[Our parents say] our employees are just as much owners as they are,” he said. “And that we wouldn't be here without them.”

The company makes sure staff at the rural facilities are well-covered, providing a daycare facility, an optional housing development, a school, and a gym.

“They have their children here, their children grow up in the community, then they go to college,” HR manager Lucy Cartagena explained.

Cartagena came from El Salvador at age six. She has now commuted from the Tri-Cities to work at Broetje’s Orchards for 22 years.

She is one of the coordinators helping the largely Hispanic work population become integrated members of the community.

“Be a welcoming company for people, who maybe are not familiar with the laws of this country,” she said.

To help with this, the company pays for many staff members to attend second language classes.

“You've got to find a way to communicate and live together,” Bairstow said. “So speaking Spanish is just as important to those who are native-born-English speakers as speaking English is to Spanish-speaking people.”

“It gets me up every day. Everyone just being excited just to come work here,” Tyler Broetje said.

The Broetje family foundation also provides aid to people in need overseas, including in India, where Tyler and several of his siblings were adopted.

“The greater good of the bigger picture,” Tyler explained. “So we're not only growing apples, we're growing people.”

“We are a faith based business, family oriented,” added Bairstow, saying as brother-in-law, he is excited to be a part of the family tree.

“To be able to be a part of something bigger.”

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Broetje Orchard’s grows about 6,200 acres of fruit, primarily including apples and cherries.


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