Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee, Wash., is adding to its sustainability and social responsibility program, Responsible Choice, by investing in solar energy. That’s because the grower-packer-shipper installed 100 solar panels onto a new distribution center, the Fresh Cube, which set to open this summer.

“Solar panels are a great way to give back to the land that helps us grow our world famous fruit,” says Roger Pepperl, marketing director. “Preserving renewable resources is a natural progression of our Responsible Choice program, which has developed many sustainability and social responsibility ideas into initiatives since it first started back in 1989.”

Stemilt’s new solar panels are expected to generate enough kilowatt hours of energy to power 3.1 homes annually in Wenatchee.

“As the Fresh Cube opens, Stemilt will become the largest solar energy producer in Chelan County,” says Pepperl. “And, as we continue with operations at the Fresh Cube, we have designed the panels in a way that we can expand in the future.”

Wenatchee utilizes resources, such as the state’s largest river, the Columbia, and generates hydropower through numerous dams.

“There isn’t a great deal of focus on solar in our state, especially when compared to places like California. Making this investment into solar was not about energy credits for us, [but] rather about preserving the natural resources that we need to grow high-quality fruit, so that we can continue to do it for years to come,” says Pepperl.

Stemilt’s late founder Tom Mathison developed the Responsible Choice program in 1989, based on the belief that “we’re just caretakers of the land for a short time, and it’s our job to leave it as good as we possibly can, or better if we can.” Mathison launched the program the same year he transitioned a large number of acres to organic production and implemented integrated pest-managed techniques in orchards to reduce pesticide use.

Today, the company is led by Tom’s grandson, West Mathison, and under his leadership, continues to implement sustainable practices and social responsibility actions. Other examples of Responsible Choice actions include using LED and motion-activated lighting to make energy use more efficient, helping the Wenatchee Valley community dispose of its green waste to make compost for Stemilt farms and reducing carbon emissions by centralizing the company’s footprint.