When he was a baby, Bjorn began calling his family’s Asian pear orchard “Tractor Farm”, after the John Deere tractor that sat at its entrance. The name stuck. Over the past few years, Erin and Dan Ericson have rehabilitated the Fall City orchard (with the help of said tractor) to sell pears to wholesale customers like the Puget Sound Food Hub and the Snoqualmie Valley Farmer’s Cooperative, a King County CSA @Work partner. Eventually, they hope to sell direct to consumers at their property’s farmstand.
How they became farmers
Erin was working for King Conservation District as a farm planner when she met the owner of the overgrown orchard that is now Tractor Farm. The owner planned to return it to forest, and was not interested in rehabilitating it.
The prospect of taking over the farm appealed to Dan and Erin. For Erin, born and raised in Seattle, leasing the farm was a comfortable step toward a more rural life, without the commitment of owning it. Dan was raised in rural Enumclaw, and was familiar with the demands of tending land. Leasing also meant that they could begin acquiring farm equipment they could later move to a future property.
Blackberry bushes threatened to swallow the orchard when Dan and Erin took over, and the next few years were dedicated to reclaiming the land and trees.
Tending their trees
The orchard is primarily Asian pear trees (over 10 different varieties), with a few scattered peach trees and grape vines. Orchards are quite different than vegetable farms because the trees remain on the landscape year-round, whereas vegetables are planted and harvested within one season. “Dan and I really love the permanence of trees,” says Erin.
Outside of the August and September harvest, everything else is maintenance-oriented. They prune in early spring, then thin small fruit to improve the size and quality of the harvest and avoid limb damage to their trees. Though their farm is not certified organic (a big hurdle for any farmer who does not own their land), they practice integrated pest management like planting flowers to attract beneficial insects, tending beehives (bees are beneficial pollinators themselves) and disposing of fallen fruit so it doesn’t spread pests.
Another not-so-small pest they have to contend with? Black bears! “During harvest, our goal is to get the fruit off the trees and into cold storage,” says Erin, “and it is a race to beat the bears.” That bears compete for their fruit is a reminder of the diversity of land in King County. Not only do we have the most populous city in the state, but also productive farmland and wildlife.
The allure of Asian pears
Though they often look more like apples, Asian pears are true pears. Unlike other types of pears, Asian pears are harvested when ripe, so they are ready to eat as soon as you buy them. Erin and Dan’s favorite way to enjoy Asian pears is eat them fresh, though they take well to canning too. They are crisp and firm, so can be sliced paper-thin to adorn salads, and pair nicely with cheese, particularly camembert-style cheeses. Of course, they are also great in desserts like this pear cake, and with bold wintry flavors like ginger and cinnamon.
Erin and Dan love stewarding the land and enjoy the work. “It is extremely rewarding to be part of the pathway from growing food to feeding other people a quality product,” Erin reflects.
Keep an eye out for their future farmstand along Route 203 in Fall City!