El Gaucho Hospitality was founded on seven key values or “pillars,” which continues to drive our company forward. Some of these fundamental beliefs include the power of free enterprise, building a strong community, and stewardship. Partnering with local businesses and sourcing their products is an important element in these core values. One of those businesses is Tonnemaker Farms, whom we have partnered with for the past six years, to provide much of our seasonal produce.
The relationship began when our Executive Chef Ken Sharp stopped by the Tonnemaker fruit stand near Royal City, WA on the way home from family vacations. After a few visits, he started asking about supplying the restaurants. Kurt and Kole Tonnemaker, brothers who inherited and now manage the farm, shied away from committing, due to past failed business deals and the short growing seasons of the produce. Ken kept pursuing them, and finally they agreed to give it a try, starting with heirloom tomatoes, which have a growing season of only six weeks. The trial partnership was successful, and now Tonnemaker supplies El Gaucho with much of their seasonal, organic produce.
The 126-acre farm is truly a five-generation labor of love. Located in the Columbia Basin in the Frenchman hills, Kurt and Kole’s grandparents took advantage of purchasing land in 1962, through a government lottery system available to veterans from the Korean and Second World War. Another government program built the Columbia Basin Reclamation Project in the 1930s, making water available to nearby farmlands through a canal system fed from Grand Coulee Dam. The 60-year-old system still irrigates the nearby soil that sees only 6-7” of average precipitation a year – and most of that comes from snowfall, not rain.
The first plantings on the farm were conventional (vs. organic), consisting of cherries, pears, and apples, and were marketed locally. Amazingly, some of the original plants from the first crop are still producing today! Over the years, Kole and Kurt expanded their plantings, and now over 400 varieties of fruits and vegetables are grown on the farm, with over 5 million pounds of fruit shipped from the farm every year.
In the 1980’s, Kurt and Kole made a pivotal decision, which was to convert the farm from conventional to organic. They were tired of the mounting pressure to produce good-looking fruit and not focus as much on the taste. They introduced IPM (Integrated Pest Management) systems to minimize chemical pesticides. Once that was accomplished, Kurt and Kole began transitioning the farm, and today the entire farm is certified organic.
El Gaucho is honored to work with such hard-working local suppliers, like the Tonnemaker’s, who share our vision: to provide the best tasting products available.
You can also buy direct from Tonnemaker Farms. They participate in many area Farmers Markets, and have a new retail fruit stand and market in Clearview, WA. Visit their website at www.tonnemaker.com, for more information.