OROVILLE – What began as Oroville United Growers in 1938, has grown into Oroville’s one remaining warehouse, Gold Digger Apples and this May 24th marks the growers’ cooperative’s 75th Anniversary.
The original board members included J.A. Blackler, Gladys B. Evans, Jesse H. Neher, L.E. Graham and George W. Rodgers. The total capital stock for the association was $10,000.
Oroville United Growers grew out of the United Fruit Exchange, according to local orchardist Perry Blackler, son of J.A. Blackler.
“Oroville Fruit Exchange was connected with the Wenatchee Exchange and they packed under the Skookum label at that time. In 1938 Oroville United Growers was formed as a co-op. There packed under the Gold Digger label, something my dad had established several years before,” said Blackler, who added that co-op was formed in reaction to the hard times brought on by the depression.
He also explained why the cooperative’s name was changed from United Fruit Growers to Gold Digger Apples in the early 1970′s.
“The reason they changed to Gold Digger was while everyone in Oroville knew what Oroville United was out in the market we were known as Gold Digger. A lot of places did that like Oro Fruit, which was changed to Cariboo because that was their brand,” Blackler said.
“Dad started in a packing shed on the orchard, probably in the 1920′s. A lot of growers would just pack boxes in the orchard then load the apples onto a truck and take them to the railroad to be loaded on cars,” said Blackler. “They would ice them in Pateros, by dumping ice into the holes at the end of each car. They did that until the 1940s when refrigerated cars came along.”
Greg Moser, general manager of Gold Digger said that they have done several things in honor of the 75th Anniversary.
First of all they have increased their scholarships to various candidates in high schools from Oroville to Okanogan. The company went from giving $2000 for up to four students to $4500 for up to seven students.
We want to give back to our communities, especially Oroville and Tonasket. We made a sizable donation to the Spray Park in Tonasket and in Oroville we decided to turn the area in front of one of our warehouses on Main into a park for the community to use,” said Moser.
The general manager credits Brad Scott for engineering and leading the crew that set up the new park.
“We’d like to offer it for use for the farmer’s market if they need more room,” added Chad Smith, an employee with the co-op.
He added that the company got lots of positive comments for their presence in the May Festival Parade. They not only had the big yellow Gold Digger semi-trailer they also pulled a large flat bed trailer full of growers and employees and their kids. They threw hats, shirts, frisbees and of course, candy.
“The growers really enjoyed themselves, they were reluctant to do it, but they all had a good time.
In addition to the parade, the co-op always donates to the May Festival 3 on 3 Basketball Tournament and the fun run. They also give a lot of donations to the school, both for athletics and academics.
“We also donate apples to the school program,” said Smith.
Other things they help to sponsor include the Okanogan County Fair Queen, youth rodeo.
People don’t really know how much we give back to the community, not just Gold Digger, but the growers too. Gold Digger growers have stuck with our company through thick and thin,” Moser said.
Gold Digger continues to make a strong commitment to the community. They have a new electronic cherry line that will be coming on line in the near future.
“The objective of the board is to take the dollars we make and spend them back into the community. That’s been very important and I think it has been very successful,” said Moser. “We’d like to thank our board of growers and our employees that have stayed with us to make Gold Digger what it is to day and thank the community for all their support.”