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.
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.
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.
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.