(Nov. 9) An organic growers’ cooperative known for its dairy products expanded its vegetable offerings this year and is introducing Northwest apples and pears this fall with an eye on becoming a year-round produce supplier.

Organic Valley Family of Farms, La Farge, Wis., kicked off its fruit program Nov. 10 and will focus on the Twin Cities market in the short term, with the intention of including blueberries and other fruit in the future, said national produce sales manager Gabriel Simning.

Blue Bird Inc. will pack the apples and pears at its Wenatchee, Wash., organic facility. The fruit comes from 140 acres grown at three orchards in Oregon and one in Washington. Organic Valley’s first foray into fruit will last only three to four months, Simning said.

“At this point, we’re looking at moving the apples and pears with the idea that as we move through the crop and from variety to variety, we will continue to develop more products,” he said. “Whether that’s moving into cherries and blueberries, we do foresee having a year-round program for fruit.”

Gala apples from Washington and Oregon were the first planned shipments the second week of November, but the cooperative will have a full line of apples and pears. The apples come in 40-pound cases and 3-pound bags, and the pears are in 40-pound and 22-pound cases. The bulk fruit will be individually stickered, and all will be sold under the Organic Valley brand from the La Farge headquarters.

Simning said he expects fruit sales to be more than $1 million this season. Vegetables cleared about $1.5 million this year.

Organic Valley supplies vegetables to organic-focused companies, including Albert’s Organics Inc., Bridgeport, N.J.; Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas; Crosset Co., Independence, Ky.; and Wild Oats Markets Inc., Boulder, Colo.

Simning said he’s working with Wild Oats and Whole Foods in the Twin Cities area for the fruit program, and distributors include J&J Distributing Co., St. Paul, Minn., and Roots and Fruits Cooperative Produce, Minneapolis. While Organic Valley does supply Cubs Foods in the Midwest with vegetables and its dairy, egg and meat products are common in grocery stores across the country, its produce offerings aren’t in many conventional retail outlets.

Of the 90 produce growers in the collective, 60% are small-scale Amish vegetable growers, and most are Wisconsin, with a few in Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and Michigan. Organic Valley expanded its vegetable program with a Michigan asparagus deal this spring and a Colorado summer potato and onion program. Next year, Organic Valley will add cucumbers, zucchini and other vegetables from Texas and Florida.