George Lamont, influential apple industry leader locally and nationally, dies at age 83

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 April 2020 at 12:06 pm

‘He didn’t do things just to advance his business. He did it for everyone’s business.’

George Lamont was recognized as the Apple Grower of the Year in 1997 by the American Fruit Grower magazine.

ALBION – The apple industry is mourning George Lamont, an Albion grower who was a key leader locally, state-wide and nationally.

Lamont was influential in the start of the Lake Ontario Fruit packing house on Ridge Road in Gaines in 1982. That business joined several local apple growers in a joint facility for storage and packing.

Before Lake Ontario Fruit, local growers either had their own storage facilities, or needed to drive their apples to packing houses outside the county.

Lamont, who was 83 when he died on March 13 at his retirement home at Saranac Lake, was able to get several local apple farmers to work together in the venture on Ridge Road. The facility is now a leader in the state for storing and packing apples, utilizing the latest in technology to ship high-quality apples.

“He was a tremendous leader for all of agriculture at local, state and national levels,” said Eric Brown, one of the partners at Lake Ontario Fruit and co-owner of Orchard Dale Fruit Company in Waterport. “He was very industry focused, rather than on the individual. He didn’t just do things to advance his business. He did it for everyone’s business.”

Lamont served as president of the New York Horticultural Society, which works to advance the fruit industry.

His greatest contribution to the industry may have been in helping to create the Premier Apple Cooperative, which included apple growers east of the Mississippi. In the late 1990s, Lamont was able to bring together growers from many states in a plan for marketing their crop.

The Premier Apple Cooperative helped growers plan what to grow and sell, and ultimately led to a higher price returned for the farmers at a time when the industry was really struggling.

Lamont, in a quiet and unassuming manner, managed to bring people, often with strong personalities, together for a common goal.

“He wasn’t overbearing or loud,” Brown said. “He was very good at initiating and getting parties together.”

Rod Farrow was 20 when came from England to the Lamont farm on Densmore Road in 1980, looking to study fruit production. Farrow also studied in New Zealand, but returned to Orleans County in 1986 to work with Lamont. Farrow would eventually become the owner of Lamont Fruit Farm. Farrow also is an industry leader and was named the U.S. Apple Grower of Year in 2017.

Farrow said Lamont made a tremendous difference in for apple growers.

“He wasn’t just a local mover and shaker,” Farrow said. “He made an impact nationally.”

George Lamont

The Premier Apple Cooperative is Lamont’s “signature legacy,” Farrow said about an organization that has made a major difference for apple growers, boosting their bottom lines and fostering a spirit of teamwork among the farmers.

“It changed the way people communicated,” Farrow said. “They were all fierce competitors with each other. He got them to work together.”

In the 1990s, the apple industry was in “terrible shape,” Farrow said. The industry was in much better condition in the first decade of the 2000s through the work of organizations like the Premier Apple Cooperative.

Lamont in the late 1990s, largely stepped back from farming and devoted himself to leading groups on behalf of the industry – in unpaid roles.

Farrow spent 30 years with Lamont, seeing him nearly every day. Farrow even lived with Lamont his first year in Albion. Farrow said Lamont was like a second father. “He welcomed me with open arms.”

Lamont enjoyed life in the Adirondacks at Saranac Lake, where he went kayaking, skiing and for long walks. He died after suffering a stroke. A memorial service will be in Albion at a later date to be announced with burial to be at Mount Albion Cemetery.

Industry leaders praise Lamont

Jim Allen, vice president of marketing for New York Apple Sales and the former president of the New York Apple Association, wrote this tribute:

“Of all George’s accomplishments, perhaps his greatest legacy will be his dedication to IMPROVING the HEALTH of the apple industry. He explored the strengths and weaknesses of how business happens and has happened for decades. He dared to suggest change and restructuring, and most important of all, collaboration within the industry. In the late ’90s and easy 2000’s, many believed that this was a radical approach.

After over a year of almost monthly strategic planning meetings with New York, George led a group of traditionally independent thinkers from all walks of the industry, to grasp the concept of collectively working together to change and improve the future of NY’s apple industry.

We New Yorkers can often be “set in our ways” and tend to follow our predecessors rather than choose to change, but George had the talent to identify weaknesses and offer a path to improvement. The industry started to react and changes were seen.

Getting New Yorkers to agree is one thing, but taking this direction across state lines, for the betterment of the domestic industry, was yet another difficult task, but not insurmountable for George.

As a result, the Premier Apple Cooperative was formed, covered the Eastern apple producing states. The simple objective was to remove any fragmentation of the industry by uniting as growers to develop an open dialog and willingness to work together, to accomplish mutually agreed upon goals. This concept was adopted in the East, Southeast, Midwest and Western apple growing regions.

George Lamont was a humble person who did not seek out or ask for attention or credit for his work. He never flaunted his success, instead letting the results speak for him. George, a good friend, used to say, “If necessary to remind others of what you have done, then that memory was not worth having.”

Julie Suarez, associate dean for Land-Grant Affairs for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, said Lamont, a 1957 Cornell graduate, was “a giant in the farm community.”

She offered this tribute:

“His kindness and good humor, while remaining steadfastly committed to the profitability of the apple industry, was legendary. Through the years, I always regarded George with awe. Here’s a man who grew up in the apple orchards of Orleans County, and proudly displayed photos of him as a 5-year-old kid on the back of a tractor – who developed a world view that influenced far more than just his own farm, and in fact, helped lead an entire industry through a crisis.

George’s leadership in helping to develop an ‘apple pricing cooperative’ to ensure transparency so that growers were not pitted against one another during the bleakest times of apple pricing in the retail environment probably helped many of New York’s apple farm families survive in a truly difficult time.

‘While a giant in the industry, George was always personally modest and humble, preferring not to have a spot light trained on him and instead, shining that light right back into the community of NYS apple farmers seeking a better path to profitability, innovation and success.’

His strong support of ag research at Cornell helped generate new resources for faculty to work on systems that are now industry standards, such as spindle trellising and the new branded apple varieties for NY growers RubyFrost and SnapDragon. He revived the NYS Horticulture Association, making sure that growers had a specific organization dedicated to pursuing apple industry success in NYS.”

And throughout all of his leadership within the industry, George took the time to be a mentor, passing on his skills and his passion for farming in New York State to everyone he encountered.  While a giant in the industry, George was always personally modest and humble, preferring not to have a spot light trained on him and instead, shining that light right back into the community of NYS apple farmers seeking a better path to profitability, innovation and success.

The food and farm community lost a wonderful friend and colleague, and while deeply mourning his passing, I am heartened with the legacy he leaves behind in the form of the many people whose lives he touched and made a little bit brighter. George’s life is a lesson in service and care for others and in these currently troubling times, his legacy should hopefully inspire us all to leave the food and farm community a little better than we found it.”

Photo by Tom Rivers: The Lamont family celebrated the 200th anniversary of the family farm during a celebration on Aug. 15, 2015. George Lamont is at far right, speaking when a historical marker was unveiled for Josias LaMont, the first generation of LaMonts to be born in the US. He moved his young family to Orleans County in 1815 and purchased a 140-acre farm in the Town of Gaines from the Holland Land Company. George and his brother Roger have been prominent local apple growers and industry leaders. Roger spelled his last name with a capital M in LaMont while George used a lower-case m. During the bicentennial celebration in 2015, Lamont said keeping the farm in the family six generations and for 200 years “takes more guts than brains.”

Lamont had the vision for Oak Orchard Health

Lamont also was instrumental in the start of Oak Orchard Health, which originally was focused on the healthcare of farmworkers. It started at a storefront in Albion in 1966.

Oak Orchard Health is now offering healthcare, dental and vision to the general population. Oak Orchard Health has locations in Albion, Lyndonville, Brockport, Warsaw and Hornell.

Dr. Jim Goetz started as a pediatric doctor at Oak Orchard in 1978 and served as the organization’s medical director for 30 years.

Goetz offered this tribute about Lamont and his impact on Oak Orchard Health:

“George dedicated the necessary time to not only open the doors of the Albion storefront on Main Street for migrant health services,” Goetz said. “It was also necessary to forge an alliance with the University of Rochester which was truly required. While the focus was on medical services to the agricultural workers in our area, George opened such an important avenue for the expansion of Oak Orchard Health to what it has become today. None of this could have happened without his vision and skills.”

“George was one of the early visionaries of Oak Orchard Health. Because of his knowledge and understanding of the needs of migrant farmworkers and his strong belief in quality health care for all people, he agreed, in 1973, to become the Health Center’s second Chairman of the Board of Directors. He served in that capacity for six years then spent another 11 years on Oak Orchard’s Board advocating for quality, comprehensive health service s in western Monroe County and eastern Orleans County.

“The early days of Oak Orchard were tumultuous in that at the time the local medical community was distrustful of this new model of health care but, with the support, advocacy and strength of conviction of  Mr. Lamont and others, Oak Orchard got through those years and is now a leader in health services in the area.

“It is said that the only way that things get accomplished is through the work of dedicated individuals. George Lamont is the epitome of that philosophy and it is upon the foundation that he helped lay that the present Oak Orchard Health now stands.”

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