Mark and Cheryl Barrett each come from a long line of orchard families, but that doesn’t mean they wanted to do things the way they’ve always been done.
Looking to chart their own course, the Yakima, Wash., couple combined everything they had learned from the previous three generations of farmers and started their own business, Barrett Orchards, in the early 1980s. Two decades later, as tourism in Central Washington began to take off, the Barretts transformed the venture into what it has become today: Washington Fruit Place and Gift Shop at Barrett Orchards.
“We wanted to create a tourist destination, so we cut down some cherry trees and built a big red barn so people could buy their fruit directly from the source,” said Mark Barrett, who started out growing apples and pears before expanding into peaches, cherries, apricots and nectarines.
“Everyone told us we were crazy for not building it right along the freeway like all of the other fruit stands in the Valley. But our dream was to get people to come to the farm so they could enjoy the full experience.”
The couple’s dreams didn’t take long to materialize, as more and more Western Washington tourists started driving over the mountains to pick cherries in the early summer and purchase tree-ripened apricots, peaches and nectarines from July through September.
Apples and pears kept the Barretts’ out-of-town customers coming back throughout the fall, which eventually led to an annual October Days festival. Interest in the Washington Fruit Place and Gift Shop, located on Pecks Canyon Road in west Yakima, grew so much that the couple added 2,500 square feet of space in 2012.
“We have local clientele, but we have found that the people from the west side also really love coming here,” Mark Barrett, whose great-grandparents emigrated from Oklahoma to Selah, Wash., in 1908. (Cheryl is a member of the Zirkle family, which immigrated to Yakima in the late 19th century.) “We’ve grown a lot since we opened the barn (in 2004), and one of the reasons for that is we have given people a reason to come back.”
Another reason for the business’ steady growth is the gift shop, which prioritizes products from around the Yakima Valley and Washington state. Cheryl Barrett managed the Washington Fruit Commission’s gift shop for years, and she understands what out-of-towners are looking for when they visit Yakima.
Among the most popular items are the gift boxes and baskets stocked with signature offerings from around the state, such as Cougar Gold cheese, Chukar Cherries, Aplets & Cotlets, MAK Daddy coffee and Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. The Barretts say providing a wide range of products helps them remain competitive in an increasingly crowded tourism market.
“One thing that makes us unique, compared to other gift shops around the Northwest, is that we don’t try to put our own label on everything,” Mark Barrett said. “We try to highlight a variety of local products and flavors, which you don’t see much when you travel around to other places.”
Nearly 40 years since the Barretts stepped out on their own, their business is still going strong. But they know the time will eventually come to retire. The couple doesn’t expect their three adult daughters to take over the business, although some of their 10 grandchildren have expressed an interest in keeping the family tradition going. Nothing would make them happier.
“One of our grandsons has been working with us in the orchards for the past four or five years, and others seem to be interested as well,” Mark Barrett said. “Who knows what life will bring? But we would love to see the sixth generation of farmers take over someday.”
Learn more about the business at treeripened.com.