Blue Mountain Growers, a 85-year-old fruit farmers' co-op based in Milton-Freewater, will be featured on the Discovery Channel's American Farmer at 7 a.m. Thursday.
The seven-minute segment will showcase the role ag co-ops have in the industry, said Chad Densen, production manager for American Farmer .
Justin Brunson, general manager of the co-op, said Blue Mountain Growers formed in 1927 and now has about 100 members, most of whom grow cherries and apples on properties in the Snake River drainage in Walla Walla, Franklin and Umatilla counties.
The TV production crew filmed the harvest of Granny Smith apples last fall and the processing of fruit at the co-op's plant in Milton-Freewater, Brunson said.
Apple grower Micky Witherspoon of Richland and cherry grower Mick Oliver of Milton-Freewater are featured in the segment along with several others with the Blue Mountain Growers.
The program focuses on why farmers form a sellers' co-op, and how it can help small-scale growers market their product to compete with big farming operators, Witherspoon said.
"It's a way for little guys to look like big guys and enjoy the benefits. It's kind of an Americana thing," said Witherspoon, who used to work full-time as an engineer, but now farms full time on about 200 acres in Burbank in Walla Walla County.
In addition to helping market their fruit, small-scale farmers gain from a co-op by sharing their knowledge and skills. "Amazing talents emerge from all these little farmers," Witherspoon said.
"The industry depends on high quality and it is sometimes easier to grow high quality on a small scale, so the market can reap the benefits the small growers provide," Witherspoon added.
Oliver's nine acres of cherries are a high-end product, cultivated as a "boutique" crop that serves a special market, Witherspoon said. By being in a co-op, small-scale growers like Oliver can reach their ideal market and have more control over the process.
"When I sell my 50 tons to 50,000 tons I don't have much say. With a co-op there's a better feeling of being heard in the decision making. It makes you feel like you're in control," Witherspoon said.
He said he hopes the American Farmer segment succeeds in educating consumers that there is no disadvantage to buying a co-op brand, such as the Blue Mountain Growers' Blue Goose label, and some advantages to doing business with a co-operative.