Farming is often a family affair. There is no better representation of a father and son operation than our growers Mark and Ken Askey.
Ken is one of the elder statesmen of Willamette Valley cherry growers. Ken was born into a Salem, Oregon, farming family and bought his first block of cherry cherries in his early 20's and has been raising cherries ever since. His son, Mark, did not fall far from the proverbial tree. Mark remembers picking cherries for wages on the home farm at an early age, running equipment in his teens, and managing the picking crews while in high school.
Mark is now a short ATV ride away from Ken's farm, and he has established his own dedicated orchard operation under the name Hunts Valley Farm in the Eola Hills region of Oregon. Mark and Ken share equipment, manage the cherry harvest as a team, and have been delivering to Gray & Company for several years. They together cultivate about 100 acres of fruit orchards, although the vast majority of trees are light sweet cherry varieties grown for maraschino production. They also grow tart cherries, prunes and some dark sweet cherries for freezing and drying.
Mark briefly flirted with a career in construction, but the call of farming was too strong. "I really love the freedom," he says. "Harvest is a challenge to get all the fruit off the tress in time, and every year is different. The work is hard, but its great to be your own boss." Mark is extremely hands-on, from raising his own nursery stock to hauling all the loads at harvest on his own rig. In a house he built himself, Mark and his wife Vi live on the farm with their two sons, James and Josh.
Vi's extended family has a cherry connection all the way across the Atlantic. She and Mark visited relatives in Switzerland last year. Her Swiss family has a backyard orchard that features a massive cherry tree of a variety known locally as Edelfinger. They brought back some of the Edelfinger wood to their farm and grafted it to some root stock. While the Edelfinger planting is all of three trees, it's a fun experiment and one that creates a direct connection to Vi's literal "roots" in Switzerland.