The Carleton family orchard was established in 1963 by his father. Bob attended Manson High School before moving on to Washington State University. Following college, he had an apprenticeship for four years in sheet metal. Realizing he wanted to work outdoors, he rejoined his father working in the orchard in 1980. Shortly after, he started purchasing the land from his father. Bob and his wife, Terrie, were married in 1988. She had been raised on a dairy farm in Orting, WA and is now a school teacher at Chelan High School.
In 1992, Bob began the replanting process, installing trellis systems to improve efficiencies and move toward newer varieties. The high-density conversion allowed him to grow up to 2,000 trees per acre.
Being a member of Manson Growers has provided him the opportunity to be more involved in what is done with the fruit after it is picked and sent to the packing facility.
“I have been a part of a co-operative ever since I was a young boy – and my dad was too. As a small grower, you have the ability to be hands on. Your voice is heard just a little bit more.”
In addition to sitting on the Board of Directors for Manson Growers, he now holds a position as a board member of a new, non-profit labor co-op called MANCO to assemble a worker crew for local growers in the area. The Chelan area has its own unique set of challenges being a major tourist spot with low local workforce levels.
“To get a labor force for jobs that we need to get done in a timely manner is tough,” he explains.
The labor co-op is still in the early stages he notes, and he believes one of the first of its kind in the state. Last year was a trial for four growers and was extremely successful. The opt-in program will see growth of members in the upcoming year.
“Two years ago, it took us two and half months to thin the orchard. Last year, we did it in 39 hours.” Bob emphasizes how pivotal this experimental solution to agriculture’s biggest dilemma has given him hope for the future. It sparks optimism that the orchard will continue and be available to his two sons if they are interested after college.
Being active with the co-operative is valued by Bob. “You try and be a good neighbor and support your fellow growers. Our growers are aging, and it can be tough. I think our co-operative is keeping them going,” he says, “if you can help keep a fellow grower viable, it supports your community.”
There is power in numbers and combining forces with other growers enables everyone to succeed. Through supporting one another, they strengthen their own operations viability for the future.