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From The Stock Market To Apple Rootstocks: Fred Stewart
Montana Senior News, February/March 2015
If you are looking for a quick return on your investments, Fred Stewart has a helpful piece of advice: Don’t start your own apple orchard. This retired Certified Financial Planner (CFP) knows well of what he speaks—both of apples and money matters.

Before deciding to go into the apple business Fred worked in the world of finance for over 25 years helping people make investments based on their risk tolerance. Being a professional planner, he naturally pondered well in advance what he wanted to do after retiring.

“I think retirees should try to find things of interest to keep their minds going. There are lots of opportunities out there to stay mentally and physically healthy,” states Fred. “I’m doing this to keep my brain active. The orchard gives me something to do with my land and eventually the income will help pay the taxes.”

Fred’s choice to grow apples on the former 7-1/2 acre truck garden now known as Green Bench Orchard stemmed partly from his desire to raise a low-maintenance crop and partly from his sense of scientific curiosity.
“In my previous life growing up I planted tomatoes and beans in our backyard in an inner-city neighborhood of Kansas City. It was a small garden patch where I could watch things grow. However, I was more interested in growing vegetables than eating part of the natural world,” he admits. “Everyplace I’ve lived since then we have had gardens because they interest me.”
Even when serving in the Peace Corps in Liberia, he started a garden to help his 7th and 8th grade students learn more about the biology of growing plants. Upon returning stateside, Fred studied agricultural economics in Kentucky. He eventually moved back to Missoula, where he had attended the University of Montana, to take a job with the Lolo National Forest.

It was while working as a Forest Service economist that Fred enrolled in a rigorous correspondence course to become a CFP. Gradually his client list expanded to be large enough for him to make it a full-time career.
Fred credits the Master Gardener Program taught through the Missoula County Extension Service as the inspiration behind his move to become an orchardist. The segment dealing with apples and pruning apple trees appealed to his scientific sense of experimentation and his path was clear from that point on.
Although his trees haven’t yet matured enough for the U-Pick operation he hopes to open this autumn, Fred has still derived a lot of satisfaction from this project.

“When I got started, I knew apple trees would grow here but it was a challenge to see if I could grow them without using any chemicals. I didn’t know anything about rootstocks and tried to pick a good mix. Plus I wanted semi-dwarf trees so no ladders would be required for picking.” As Fred says, “no ladders, no falls.” The varieties he eventually chose range from the well-known Honeycrisp and Spartan to the less-familiar Goodmac, Liberty, Haralson, and Wealthy.

Finding hardy varieties with an appealing taste that can survive winter and mature in a staggered harvest were three of his prime concerns. Other considerations included the ability to withstand insect and disease assaults. And let’s not forget the deer.

“If you’re going to be an apple farmer, especially in Montana, you have to be sure to check your gates at night,” says this voice of experience. Alas, thanks to an unlatched gate, deer nailed 39 of his initial 43 trees by nipping off the tops. “It set things back,” he admits. “But the trees did survive.”

During the next three years, Fred patiently planted more trees. Today, 180 of them fill Green Bench Orchard and are expected to blossom and bear fruit in the fall.

“The land clearly has good agricultural potential with a good source of irrigation water. It’s prime ag soils in a suitable climate. With global warming, I think it will probably get even better,” says Fred, who plans to grow U-Pick raspberries on his farm as well.

Despite his educational background and fascination with science, Fred had no real-life experience when it came to growing things on several acres as opposed to backyard plots. But he is resourceful and that, he has discovered, is just as important as hands-on expertise.

“I’m not a farmer or farm boy. I don’t know how to do things because of family genetics,” he explains. “Instead, I try to find people who know stuff because I don’t have the ability to know all these things.”
Sometimes, Fred has sought and received the assistance he needs from other orchardists and scientists. Other times, he has preferred to fly solo and see how far he can travel on his own. “I had to figure out how to hook up equipment with a three-point hitch to my tractor. I’m also a beginner at welding,” he confesses. “But I will figure out how to do that, too.”

Although he won’t know for a few more years how successful his return on this particular investment will be, Fred does not mind the wait.

“It has kept me busy. I like being outside and reading about the soil-food web and why things grow. One thing leads to another that you never expected,” he says. “Some parts of this are hard. But it’s fun. It’s different.”
Green Bench Orchard is located at 4701 South Ave. W., Missoula. For more information, contact Fred at 406-549-9017 or