CHICAGO — Although he’s known for growing apples and peaches, it could be said that Henry Chiles is very familiar with lemons.
As in: When life gives him lemons, he makes lemonade.
Chiles, who grows more than 1,700 acres of fruit, including 20 varieties of apples, at Batesville, Va.-based Crown Orchard Co., is the 2014 Packer Apple Man of the Year. A common theme in nominations for the award, given Aug. 21 at the annual U.S. Apple Association Crop Outlook and Marketing Conference, is Chiles’ positive outlook when others have given up hope.
“I have never met anybody that has more passion for the industry and for what he does for a living than Henry Chiles,” said Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association. “He’s such an optimistic person. When things look the worst, Henry has a way of saying … don’t worry about it, we can make it happen, we can make it work.”
One nominee referred to Chiles’ “boundless energy.”
“He has spent countless hours working on industry committees, speaking at industry functions and traveling on trade missions … He is a forward-thinking, promotion-minded industry icon,” he wrote in the nomination.
Dubbed “Mr. Positive” by another nominee, Chiles has been involved in leadership roles with the U.S. Apple Association, the U.S. Apple Export Council, the National Peach Council, and his state’s horticultural society.
Tom Karst, national editor of The Packer, presented the award to Chiles, saying he’s “never afraid to try something new, even if his approach doesn’t always work out.”
Chiles expressed surprise and thanked the people in the industry for their support.
“I really love the industry and love all the people here,” he said. “Then main thing about this industry is you’ve got a bunch of nice people. This is a great honor and I appreciate it.”
At 78, Chiles is still involved in the business that started with his grandfather, and is now its fifth generation of operation. He learned the growing and packing sides of the business before attending college, returning home to help manage the orchards when his father died.
Other than a stint in the Army in the 1950s, Chiles has remained at Crown Orchard, where he “has created a unique and unforgettable imprint on his fellow professionals in the apple and tree fruit industry,” Karst said.