YAKIMA, Wash. — With a history that goes back in the Yakima Valley more than a century, Gilbert Orchards has developed strong ties to its community. Sean Gilbert, a member of this fruit-growing clan, said that his family farm places great importance on contributing to several causes.
“Personally, I think that the most important one is the Washington Apple Education Foundation,” Gilbert said.
He said that this charity is particularly important, as it grants scholarships to students in his community to further their education. He serves on this scholarship board, which gave a scholarship to a child of one of Gilbert Orchards’ growers last year.
The student, Heidi Empey, who intends to study at Brigham Young University next year, was given $1,500 for her education.
“It’s fundamental to who we are and what we do,” Gilbert said about such efforts to promote the future of the agricultural industry in the Yakima area. “We’ve been in the valley for a long time, and we have benefited greatly from its resources and its people. It’s our responsibility to give back and hopefully make this a better valley for generations to come.”
Though significant, academic scholarships are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Gilbert Orchard’s charity. Gilbert lists several more.
For instance, his company helps support La Casa Hogar, an organization that provides skills training and other resources for immigrant women. Gilbert Orchards is a donor to this organization, and it helps with fundraising activities.
Gilbert said that the company frequently takes an active role in charity work, not only giving money but participating in or organizing events.
Sometimes, charity hurts, as when he and other company employees took part in a “polar plunge.”
To benefit the Special Olympics, Gilbert Orchards employees jumped into an icy pond, thereby encouraging their backers to donate cash. The company, which is regularly one of the top donation-getters at the event, collected $3,840 this past winter. Seven office workers braved 32-degree weather to make last season’s plunge.
Most events are a little more pleasant, Gilbert said. At least a few of the company’s charities relate to the family’s interests in the arts and culture.
Barbara Smith Gilbert and Cragg Gilbert, his mother and father, support the Yakima Symphony Orchestra and Allied Arts of the Yakima Valley, as both organizations encourage young people in the arts and promote local artists.
And the list goes on to include Heritage University, the Pegasus Project, the Yakima Valley Museum, the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy, the United Way and others.
Gilbert said he is proud to be part of a family, and company, tradition that values this work.
“It’s been an important part of our company as long as I’ve been around,” he said.
He said that his grandparents showed great generosity and were active in the community. As the fifth generation of Gilberts in Yakima, and as the father of an up-and-coming sixth generation, he intends to continue making charity a key part of the company.
“In the future, we want to continue these charities as their foundation, but also look for other causes that make a difference in the Valley,” he said.
“Our Valley has tremendous resources and people who are committed to making it a better place,” he said. “There’s potential there, and I hope that we can all direct our resources to realize that potential.”
Farmer: Cragg Gilbert and family
Location: Yakima, Wash.
Year started: 1897
Crops: Apples, peaches, pears, nectarines, apricots, cherries