Berry Boost: Whole Foods loan funds HR Blueberry expansion

Paul and Ben Escoe own Hood River Blueberry, which started as a farm at Markham Road and now grows, packages and distributes organic berries from Oregon and Washington. The company has secured a $114,000 low-interest loan from Whole Foods Market which will allow them to install a new packaging line and buy a refrigerated van.

Credit: Submitted photo.
Paul and Ben Escoe own Hood River Blueberry, which started as a farm at Markham Road and now grows, packages and distributes organic berries from Oregon and Washington. The company has secured a $114,000 low-interest loan from Whole Foods Market which will allow them to install a new packaging line and buy a refrigerated van.



Hood River Blueberry has received a $114,000 low-interest loan from Whole Foods Market to fund a new packaging line and a refrigerated delivery van.

Owned by Paul Escoe and his son, Ben, the fruit company grows organic Aurora, Duke, Chandler and Spartan blueberries at Markham Road in southwest Hood River.

What began in 2004 as a small operation serving local grocery stores and restaurants has expanded to include a packaging and distribution company with packing sites in Wapato, Wash. and Hood River, operating under the name of Twin Rivers LLC.

“We started as just an organic grower. Now we actually distribute fruit from Oregon, Washington and import from Argentina during the winter,” said Ben Escoe.

Whole Foods Market, a national supermarket chain based in Austin, Texas, has been a partner with Hood River Blueberry since 2006.

“Paul sold his first harvest to our store in Portland’s Pearl District in 2006, which was the beginning of our partnership, said Denise Breyley, Pacific Northwest forager for Whole Foods. “Hood River Blueberry shares our values and we love the product’s outstanding quality and taste.”

The berry company supplied about 330,000 pounds of organic blueberries over the summer, Ben Escoe said, but the expansion will make spur an even greater output.

“Just the new line … will increase efficiency by 50 percent,” said Escoe.

New machinery will include a “soft sorter” which automatically filters berries from the intake that aren’t properly firm.

“Basically it senses whether the (berries) are soft. Then we hand sort for color,” Escoe explained. The process will be significantly faster and more efficient, he said.

As for the new refrigerated vehicle, Escoe said it won’t be new per say – they’ll buy a slightly used van to cut back on the cost — but it’ll be a relief after driving around in a clunky 30-year-old truck with poor air conditioning. Delivering to stores in Portland will become a smoother (and during the summer cooler) operation.

Escoe hopes the expansion will help focus operations in Hood River — but to keep building on that front, he’ll need more Oregon blueberry farms to get on board.

“We’ve been trying to educate the local farms (to grow organic) as we expand in Oregon,” said Escoe.“I chose organic farming over conventional farming because it’s simply the right thing to do.”



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