OROVILLE – With help from Gebbers Farms, agriculture will remain a viable industry in northern Okanogan County.
That was the message local business people heard Thursday, April 13, during a chamber of commerce meeting.
“We’re happy that we’re able to come and do business in Oroville,” said Cass Gebbers, president and CEO of Brewster-based Gebbers Farms. “There’s a lot of good growing areas, a lot of good, hardworking people.”
Gebbers said throughout the years, Gebbers and Gold Digger Apples Inc., have worked together off and on and, “It’s been a good partnership.”
Last May Gold Digger Apples Inc., filed for bankruptcy protection in federal District Court in Spokane after U.S. Bank sought more than $18 million in loan repayment.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a liquidation proceeding in which the debtor’s non-exempt assets, if any, are sold by the Chapter 7 trustee and the proceeds distributed to creditors according to the priorities established in the code.
“There’s been a number of rumors,” said Welcome Sauer, executive vice president and business development director of Gebbers Farms. “We didn’t buy Gold Digger.”
Sauer said bankruptcy took over interim operations until Gold Digger’s assets were sold.
“We bought (some of) the Gold Digger company orchards, other people bought some of the orchards … (we) bought the packing plant and cold storage facility.
Gebbers said once the company’s assets went for sale, “Why don’t we just try to keep this thing going forward. It’s a great community.”
“The cherries were on the trees, the apples were on the trees,” Sauer said of the untimely announcement of Gold Digger’s bankruptcy. “If we’re going to keep this thing going, we’d better do something quickly.
“We just said we’ll provide up-front cash, to keep those orchards going … we just kind of took over and hired much of the same staff,” Sauer said, adding trees were watered, sprayed and then cherry harvest began.
“People wanted to work,” Sauer said. “It was a wonderful, gratifying feeling.”
He said some orchards were sold to other people, but generally, between the company orchards that Gebbers purchased in Oroville and the fruit that it already has in the region, “some fruit hauled up, we’re storing fruit here, packing fruit here … not wanting to make very many ripples.”
“This has been enjoyable, great people,” said northern manager Greg Moser. “We’re very fortunate to have somebody like this step in.”
Johnny Gebbers, who manages the fruit in family operation when it leaves the tree, said in his 11 years with the family business, “I have never seen a deal come together as quickly as this one.”
“This was a very fast-moving deal,” he said. “It would not have worked without Greg Moser”
“For the future, we have what I think are exciting plans here,” Johnny Gebbers said. “Long-term investments, upgrading engine rooms and storage facilities; you don’t do that if you don’t plan on staying.
“These (improvements) should be viewed as long-term commitments to this community,” he said.
“When we started running cherries, they (employees) had some faith … we’re going to come in and do our job … they have hung in there with us during this transition,” said Gebbers Farms Director of Food Safety Bob Grandy. “We’re looking to the future for some great things up here; smart people, people that care.”
Grandy said during a recent food safety audit, the Oroville facility, “did great.
“It’s a pretty labor-intensive industry,” Grandy said. “This community comes with a good existing labor force “that’s absolutely tremendously grateful that we have a good, established work force in this community.”
“It’s a great community,” Cass Gebbers said. “We think that’s going to be going forward for quite a while.”