Just weeks after Yakima-based FirstFruits Marketing of Washington opened its doors, the company has recruited another major apple grower-shipper, Columbia Valley Fruit, Yakima.

The concept of grower direct marketing that became FirstFruits Marketing Aug. 17 originated with Ralph Broetje, owner of Broetje Orchards, Prescott, said Andy Tudor, marketing manager for FirstFruits.

 “It’s all about partnering with the right people for the right reasons,” Tudor said.

For FirstFruits Marketing, the right reasons include sustainable agricultural practices, stringent food safety programs and a commitment to donate to charities a minimum of 10% of a grower-shipper’s share of the profits from the marketing company, Tudor said. The nonprofit recipients of the donations are at the discretion of each grower, he said.

 “It’s important to want to work hard but also to give back,” Tudor said.

Building stronger relationships between growers and their customers is a primary goal of FirstFruits Marketing.

“We are responding to the marketplace,” said Orlin Knutson, co-owner of Columbia Valley Fruit.  “Customers are telling us that they prefer to have direct access to the producer, and this new marketing company creates that direct link between our customers and the grower.”

FirstFruits will market up to 7.5 million cartons of apples, pears, cherries and stone fruit in its first year of operation, Tudor said. Of that volume, more than 1.5 million cartons will be organic.

Broetje Orchards and Columbia Valley Fruit produce more than 25% of the state’s organic fruit volume, he said.

 “Columbia Valley Fruit is a natural addition to FirstFruits Marketing,” Broetje said in a news release.  “We are like-minded in growing the best quality fruit possible, using sustainable practices that protect and return value to the land.”

The sales staff at FirstFruits Marketing includes several industry veterans, among them: Robbin Erickson, sales manager, and salesmen Tim Cavanaugh, Matt Miles, Rich Roberts and Chuck Zeutenhorst. The firm’s production coordinator is Jeff Weidener.