Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Cherry Season Superheroes

By James Parker, June 22, 2010  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by James Parker
By mid-June we reach the approximate center point of the domestic cherry season where production transitions from California to the Pacific Northwest states of Oregon and Washington. It is a time of long hours and high anxiety where you are either riding a wave of cherry sales bliss or sitting at your desk wondering what possessed you to go into the perishable fruit business in the first place. By now we generally have the lay of the land for the season and this year has been equal parts bliss and career choice soul searching. The fruit we’ve managed to secure this season has been exceptional — thanks to Bryan, our global cherry buyer, and Randy, Adam and Josiah (our field inspectors). But getting the fruit to market this year has not been easy (thank you El Niño) and the efforts of our grower partners have been truly heroic. The cherry season is chock full of incredible growers, and here are a few of the faces and stories behind this remarkable fruit. Mark Zirkle Rainier Fruit Company: The Zirkle family has been farming in Selah, Washington since the late 1800’s. In 1974, Bill Zirkle founded the Rainer Fruit Company, and now, still family owned and operated, it is run by his son Mark. Rainier Fruit Company has grown into one of the largest shippers of Northwest fruit, with farms producing apples, cherries and pears. The Selah ranches encompass several different microclimates, where each variety and commodity is planted in the micro-climate best suited to its needs and in order to provide the most flavorful eating experience. Eric Hanson CDS: Eric Hansen / Valley Roz Farm: Eric Hansen is carrying on the family tradition with the Hansen Fruit Company. Started by Wilbert Hansen in 1948, the company was passed on to Harley Hansen and now to Eric, the 3rd generation managing the company. The Hansen Fruit Company is a grower, packer and shipper of tree fruits grown in the Yakima Valley, where the warm spring days and fertile volcanic soil encourage the cherries to grow large and sweet. The cool Pacific Northwest nights rejuvenate the orchard and allow the trees to maximize the quality of the fruit. The Hansen’s pack their fruit under the Washington Fruit label. John Hefron Domex: John Hefron: After growing up with an orchardist father, John Heffron started a farm in 1987 with three acres of his own. Today, John and wife Diana grow dark, sweet and Rainer cherries on 75 acres in Outlook, Washington. Their specialty is Rainier cherries, using a “V” trellis system to open the trees ups for even color and sugar and keeping the cherries clear of the branches. The Hefrons use hand thinning for optimum fruit size and massive wind break fences to keep the Rainiers from getting damaged by harsh winds. John Hefron is one of a group of growers represented by Domex Superfresh Growers. Rick & Kerry Booth CMI: Rick Booth: Rick and Kerry Booth started farming in 1985 and have been farming organic for 10 years. Located in the Columbia Basin in Central Washington, the Booths grow apples and Rainer cherries on 65 acres. Their crops are all planted at high densities and trellised, maximizing sunlight for optimal fruit size and color. The Booths are one of a group of growers represented by CMI. Tate, Kyle and West Mathison Stemilt Growers/Mathison Family: Stemilt’s company roots trace back to 1893 when the Mathison family homesteaded 160 acres on Stemilt Hill overlooking the Columbia River and town of Wenatchee, WA. In 1914, the Mathison’s planted their first 10 acres of cherries, apples and pears. Today, Stemilt continues to be family-owned and operated, growing cherries in a range of farming locations – from California to Washington. West Mathison is Stemilt's president, while West's father Kyle, brother Tate, and other family members all play an integral role in company operations from growing to selling the fruit. Sitting at a desk in Watsonville, California it’s easy to reduce the cherry season to a long, expensive list of problems. To say cherries are temperamental is an understatement – outside of berries they are perhaps the highest risk fruit we sell. But the rewards when things go well are far greater than the risks. As much as they make me question my career choice, they also make me happy and proud to be a part of delivering this amazing fruit to our customers. But my job is easy compared to the folks who see to the care of their orchards through a cycle of seasons for the few precious weeks the fruit comes off the trees. The growers are the true cherry season superheroes — thanks for all you do. Many thanks to Carol Medeiros for contributing to this post.




Lauren says ...
You consistently seem to forget about the cherry growers in Traverse City, MI. They produce over 75% of the WORLD'S tart cherries...with over 4 million cherry trees.
06/22/2010 9:20:32 AM CDT
Margo says ...
It is nice to meet the people behind the product! Always good to have a name and a face behind an early summer treat at our house.
06/22/2010 12:54:19 PM CDT
Robin says ...
Yay Lauren, I was about to point that out! I live in Benzie Co., MI, just west & a little south of Traverse City, and there are some great growers here too.
06/22/2010 3:52:19 PM CDT
Susan says ...
Three years ago, I bought fresh tart (sour) cherries at WF here in Denver, and loved them. Haven't seen them since, although I ask and look for them every year. The season for them is so short! Could someone connect with the cherry growers Lauren and Robin speak of? I don't want to let another sour-cherryless year go by!
06/23/2010 1:35:12 PM CDT
Cherie says ...
When we lived in California we looked forward to the time when the dark Bing cherries would be in season. So far I have not seen them in the stores here in the Phoenix area of Arizona. Can you tell me when they will be available here? Thank you.
06/23/2010 7:12:11 PM CDT
Alicia Kirschenheiter says ...
I absolutely love cherries! Being able to trace the origin of your foods to then make better, more educated holistic food choices is awesome. Thank you for all your work. Be well.
06/23/2010 8:06:39 PM CDT
Anna K says ...
Environmental Working Group claims that cherries contain a high level of pesticides relative to other fruits / vegetables. How do cherries sold at Whole Food compare to conventional produce in terms of pesticide use?
06/29/2010 1:01:13 PM CDT
paig292 says ...
@ Anna K We encourage customers concerned about the use of pesticides in agriculture to buy organic. Organic products are grown without the use of synthetic, persistent pesticides and fertilizers. We offer both conventional and organic cherries in our stores, dependent upon availability. Thanks for asking.
06/29/2010 4:40:59 PM CDT
Steven Hampton says ...
I love tart cherry juice!! It not only tastes great but is one of the healthiest drinks on the planet. YUM!
06/30/2010 10:19:25 AM CDT
Susan says ...
It is so unbelievable to put faces and names with the food we purchase at WF. This is awesome. Thank you all for what you do for your end result is certainly so enjoyable and looked forward to each year! Keep up the good work.
07/01/2010 2:53:42 PM CDT
Octavia says ...
Your cherries are the best ever!! The only kind of cherries worth eating. I purchased two pints today, and they were on sale. Your cherries cost more and they are worth it too. Thanks
07/04/2010 4:35:19 PM CDT