History of Gold Digger Apples
Gold Digger Apples is located in Oroville Washington, 4 miles south of the Canadian border, in the sunny Okanogan Valley. Oroville was first settled in the late 1850s and was originally known as 'rag town'. Surrounded by gold mines, the settlement was named Oro in 1892, after the Spanish word for gold, in an attempt to attract prospectors and merchants. In 1909 the name was
changed to Oroville.
Hiram F. “Okanogan” Smith came to Oroville in 1858. He was one of the first settlers in the Oroville area. He was a pioneer orchardist, planting 1,200 vines and trees in 1861. He had the first commercial orchards in the state of Washington. Smith was also a trader, miners’ outfitter, operator of pack trains, stock raiser and even a legislator. Eventually other settlers began planting orchards and other agricultural crops.
In the early days of orcharding, each grower packed, sold and shipped their own fruit directly from their orchard. Fruit was originally packed with ice to keep it cool. If a buyer was too far away for an orchardist to drive, the fruit would be shipped via railcars.
It didn’t take long for orchardists to begin pooling together their small amount of fruit in warehouses to ship larger quantities to buyers.
Oroville Fruit Exchange was a privately owned fruit warehouse where several local orchardists brought their fruit to have it packed and sold.
Oroville Fruit Exchange turned into a fruit cooperative called Oroville United Growers in _____. The concept of a fruit cooperative is each grower has the benefits of ownership as well as the security of sharing expenses and workforce with a group of other orchardists.
In 1938, Oroville United Growers needed a label for their fruit. Because of the town’s gold mining history, they thought “Gold Digger” would be an appropriate name for the label.
Before refrigerated railcars, fruit would be loaded into the cars with sheets of Styrofoam surrounding the boxes in an effort to keep the fruit cool for the duration of the trip. The same method would be used later when fruit was shipped over-seas.
At that time, a buyer would order a load of apples and a shipper would send whatever variety they were packing that day. Once the fruit was delivered, the buyer would sell whatever variety, grade and size they received. Today, a buyer will order a specific variety, size and grade and will often re-negotiate the price if the fruit doesn’t arrive in the exact condition they
In the early 1970s, the name of the company was officially changed to Gold Digger Apples, Inc. During that time there were multiple small warehouses along the valley. At one time, there were at least 13 fruit warehouses in Oroville alone. Gold Digger Apples eventually merged and/or acquired all of those warehouses, leaving it as the sole fruit packing, storing and shipping facility in Oroville. To this day, Gold Digger remains the only fruit warehouse in the Oroville area.
It wasn’t until the late 1980s that Gold Digger Apples began using refrigerated trailers to haul fruit. This has dramatically improved the condition of fruit at time of delivery.
The Okanogan Valley is well known for producing remarkable wine grapes. With several successful wineries on the Canadian side of the Okanogan Valley, Gold Digger decided to plant vineyards in 1999. By 2000, those grapes were in production and in 2001, Gold Digger Cellars was established and selling wine out of their tasting room along Main Street in Oroville. The name Gold Digger wasn’t as popular in the wine industry as it has been in the fruit industry, so the name was changed to Okanogan Estate & Vineyards. The valley’s desert like climate and sandy soil prove to be ideal for making outstanding wine grapes. Okanogan Estate & Vineyards has bottled several award winning wines year after year.
In 2008, Gold Digger Apples was offered an opportunity to have one of the largest marketing companies in the region sell their fruit. Chelan Fresh Marketing sells most of the fruit in North Central Washington, maximizing the returns to growers by minimizing the competition between local warehouses.
Gold Digger remains a viable fruit co-op, the last grower owned co-op in Okanogan County and the only co-op with an organic program. Gold Digger has numerous members and non-members that bring their fruit to be stored, packed and shipped at our facilities.
Gold Digger Apples owns and operates several company orchards with a diverse variety of apples, pears and cherries as well as vineyards with many different wine grapes. Gold Digger’s company orchards are a large contributor to the warehouse, allowing them to pack fruit almost year-round.
Gold Digger is committed to maintaining the highest standards in quality and food safety from the orchard throughout the warehouse. These standards are also held for all growers, member and non-member, who bring their fruit to Gold Digger. The ever-changing Food Safety Program has been implemented to ensure consistent quality and to meet the current industry standards.