ANOTHER VOICE: A farmer grew up with Harvest Fest

Thirty-one years ago a group was putting together a harvest event at the old Diamond Fruit Cannery on Cascade Street. They wanted some orchard participation so I, being a young orchardist with apples abundant but little money, picked some Golden Delicious apples, grabbed a bunch of used paper grocery bags, an old scale, and a pocket full of change and headed down to the event.

I set up business across the street from the cannery building on the sidewalk. Back then the sidewalks on the low end of the blocks were very high, as much as 1.5 feet, to handle rain storms. This high sidewalk corner provided my presentation shelf and a place to sit during lulls.

As people started flowing into the harvest event on that first Saturday morning, it became apparent that I didn’t have enough fruit to handle the demand. I ran up the street to a phone booth (that is a small enclosure about the size of an outhouse that has a phone with coin slots in it to pay for the use). Back then, phone calls from Hood River to Odell were long distance, but thankfully I had lots of change from apple sales but few apples. I got hold of Dad and he picked some more apples and brought them down to me.

Across the street to the east was a partial vacant lot where Lew Merz had set up his fruit sales as well. Lew had more experience than I and had a more substantial operation. We would be Harvest Fest cohorts for the next 29 years. Lew finally retired a couple of years back. He had a lot to do with the success and growth of the Harvest Fest.

As years went by, we made lots of adjustments to meet the increasing demand. When we moved down to the port area, it opened up the opportunity to bring in bins of fruit and provide the opportunity for patrons to purchase boxes of fruit mixed with the varieties they desired. We now bring in more than 10 varieties of pears and apples, have electronic cash registers, pop-up tents in case of rain, and have ample room for the thousands of visitors that come to see the fruit.

Over the years I have become less enthusiastic about being a part of the Harvest Fest. After six or seven weeks of harvest, I am ready for a break. However, my wife, Kathy, and kids Sarah and Jimmie still enjoy the whole affair and so they take on most of the operation.

A couple of things have been the same for the entire 31 years. We only sell field-run fruit with no grading and added value (expense to the consumer). We also only sell what we grow and therefore have firsthand knowledge of how the fruit has been grown.

That first Harvest Fest, I probably went through 10 to 15 boxes of fruit, all Golden Delicious. Now we go through hundreds of boxes which include new varieties such as Red Anjous, Golden Russett Bosc, Fuji, Jonagold and Honeycrisp.

The Chamber of Commerce has done a great job of promoting and managing the annual Harvest Fest over the years. Not a small task. I hope it continues for decades to come. It has become a terrific tradition for Hood River.

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Mike Oates of Odell grows fruit, and plenty of it.

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