Ask the Produce Expert: The Art of Growing Apples, Pears & Cherries

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy.

Today’s Expert: Sage Fruit Company

LogoSlider_SageFruitWelcome to the 4th edition of our featured series, titled “Ask the Produce Expert.”  In this series, we feature one of our partner growers or commodity boards, and ask them farming industry-related questions that will help us, as consumers, become more educated on the food that we purchase and eat on a daily basis.  If you have a question that you want answered by an industry expert – it’s as easy as tweeting at me or posting  it on my Facebook page!  I am eager to work your questions into this series!

Sage Fruit Company is a premier grower and shipper of apples, pears, and cherries. Founded in August of 1999, Sage Fruit is located in the heart of the Pacific Northwest. They take great pride in their commitment to quality, innovation, and service. Sage Fruit growers farm several thousand acres of orchards throughout the state of Washington, as well as parts of Oregon. The company offers a wide variety of apples and pears, and pack both Dark Sweet and Rainier cherries during the summer months. By using the most efficient, and effective growing methods available, Sage is able to deliver quality product to their customers year-round. For more information on Sage Fruit, visit their website, or find them on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest!

In this edition of Ask the Produce Expert, Peter Verbrugge will be the featured expert from Sage Fruit. Peter will answer several recurring questions about the art of growing apples, pears and cherries, such as “What make the Pacific Northwest the most ideal region in the United States to grow tree fruit?”, share some fun fruit facts, and tell about his love for the produce industry.

Please welcome Peter Verbrugge of Sage Fruit, and his educational insight on the Art of Growing fruit.


Peter Verbrugge is the President and a founding member of Sage Fruit, as well as co-owner of Valley Fruit. He is a third generation grower, with over 2,000 acres of orchards. Each year, the Verbrugge family produces approximately 2 million boxes of apples, pears and cherries.

Here is a video of Peter speaking on his company, Sage Fruit:

Let’s dive in to the questions:

What makes the Pacific Northwest the most ideal region in the U.S. to grow tree fruit?

sage-fruit-fields-300x188There are couple of key attributes that make the Pacific Northwest one of the premier growing regions in the world for tree fruit. With our northern latitude, we have longer days which means more hours of sunlight for healthy trees and fruit development. The second significant factor is the dry climate of eastern Washington. Most people think of rain in Seattle when they think of Washington State but in reality, two thirds of the state is actually a desert with only 6-8” of rain per year. This dry climate minimizes the issues of pests and disease while providing ample sunlight during the growing season.

There are two other characteristics that are important. The rich volcanic soils provide the fertile ground to grow not only tree fruit but many other crops and commodities of which Washington State is a leading producer. With the dry climate, it is important and fortunate that we have the snow pack in the Cascade mountains to provide clean, fresh water through the hot summer months.

What are the benefits of a high density apple orchard as opposed to a low density orchard?

honeycrisp-apple-225x300Our company and most of the apple industry have been developing higher density orchards. With these new systems, we are more efficient with our resources primarily because we can increase our yields by as much as 100%. Not too many years ago, the average yield for an apple orchard was 25 to 30 tons per acre. Now we are achieving yields over 50 tons per acre. Thus, we are using less land to grow more fruit. This also makes us much more efficient with our labor which is our highest cost item.



Do all apple varieties thrive under the same climate conditions?

boxes-of-apples-300x225Although Washington State successfully grows most apple varieties, we have found that some varieties perform better in certain micro-climates within the region. For example, we have learned that Honeycrisp prefers a cooler location such as higher elevations and north facing slopes.



Explain the importance of light interception in the growing process.

rome-apple-orchard-1-225x300Light is very important for not only the quality of fruit but also the health of the tree. We have learned through research that light can only penetrate into a tree about 24”. Thus, our new growing systems have a “tree wall” only 24” thick. We also use reflective materials on the ground to reflect sunlight into the lower portion of the trees. Sunlight helps bring on that bright red color and helps convert the starches in the immature fruit into sugar as the fruit matures. Sunlight also helps develop leaves to feed the fruit and buds for next year’s crop. Essentially, light is energy for the trees.


Explain the brix unit of measurement and its purpose.

sage-fruit-assembly-line-apple-300x287We measure the sweetness of apples using “Brix”. Technically, one degree of brix is equal to one gram of sugar in 100 grams of solution or 1%. Brix is just one of the measures we use for eating quality along with firmness and acidity. As an apple matures, it converts starch to sugar so the higher sugar content, the more mature the apple is. Apples continue to convert starches to sugar for up to 8 weeks after harvest.


How much time passes from when the fruit is picked to when it shows up on the grocery shelves?

green-danjou-pears-225x300Some fruit is packed and shipped immediately so it can be in the grocery store within 72 hours. We must supply apples for most of the year so we have developed storage techniques to have different varieties available different lengths of time. Essentially, we put the apples in a low-oxygen environment to put them to “sleep”. We must give them just enough (2-4%) to stay alive but by putting them to sleep, we can keep them from becoming over-mature and they become soft and mealy.



What do you enjoy most about working for Sage Fruit?

sage-fruit-coffee-mug-300x225I’ve grown up in this industry being a third generation grower in Washington State. What I like most about working with Sage is the people. I love the people I work with, people we sell to and the consumers who enjoy the fruits of our labor. We work hard together and enjoy the rewards together.


Do you have a favorite variety of apple, pear, and cherry?

sage-fruit-cherries-300x168I love all types of tree fruit and different varieties during different times of the season. Having all these different apples is nice because it gives us a variety of flavors whether I want a sweet Gala right off the tree in early September or a Pink Lady in February after the flavor has evolved or a Jonagold in an apple crisp. I feel fortunate that I have access to all the wonderful types of fresh tree fruit but it hard to beat a firm, dark, sweet cherry right off the tree in June.

That concludes the 4th edition of our Ask the Produce Expert series! A big thank you to Peter Verbrugge for sharing your knowledge on the Art of Growing fruit, and being part of The Produce Mom Family!

Since this is the 4th edition, there must be three others, right?! Well, here they are! Check ’em out 🙂

“Organic vs. Natural                           “Picking & Packaging                           “Core Insight Into
vs. Healthy” by: Viva                           Field Fresh Lettuce”                            the Apple Industry”
Tierra Organic                                       by: Tanimura & Antle                         by: U.S. Apple Association

what is organic food farming infographic               Ask the Produce Expert: Picking and Packaging Field Fresh Lettuce                                                   USApple Group Bowl

I learned so much… I cannot wait for our next Ask the Produce Expert blog!  What questions do YOU want answered?

#FreshProduce rules – thank you for serving fruits & veggies to your family!!!

xoxo Produce Mom

Sign up here for our NEW weekly newsletter if you want more fun recipes, cooking tips, and more!

OR  Text “TPM” to 66866 to sign up!

About Lori

Lori Taylor is the Founder & CEO of The Produce Moms. For ten years she sold fresh produce to over 300 grocery stores throughout the United States, and today she is fully focused on working with the produce supply chain, media, and government to increase fresh produce access & consumption in the US and around the globe. Connect with Lori on LinkedIn.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *