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Stemilt celebrates 60th anniversary and founder’s legacy

Photo: Tom Mathison Family Orchard

A once quaint family farm started on Stemilt Hill in Wenatchee Washington with a dream and just 10 acres of apples, pears and cherries.

Today, Stemilt Growers BB #:113654 is a global producer of World Famous Fruit with its sights set on cultivating people and delighting consumers through excellence. The tree fruit grower celebrates its 60 year anniversary in 2024 looking back at its family history and forward to a future of freshness and innovation.

President West Mathison, and VP of Sales and Marketing, Tate Mathison, reminisce on their grandfather’s curiosity and innovations that remain influential to the company’s culture of today.

Photo: Hill Plant 1985

“One thing that is deeply seated in Stemilt’s roots and culture is a promise my grandfather, Tom Mathison, made to himself after he returned from WWII,” says West. “As he was lying in a ditch for 18 hours, he promised he would not let worry get in the way of his life anymore. He was just a high school dropout living on Stemilt Hill who had to overcome many adversities in his lifetime, but he never let these things stop him from supporting his family and making a mark in the industry. I think it’s that same curiosity and strong drive to innovate that Tom had that we still carry with us at Stemilt.”

Headshot: West Mathison
West Mathison

Young Tom started leading the family farm in 1947 and had to figure out how he was going to make Stemilt Hill pay. One of his greatest challenges, known at Stemilt as the cherry crop disaster of 1958, was a pivotal point in Stemilt’s history where Tom received a mere $88 on his 100-ton cherry crop.

In 1959, he followed his cherries to the New York market to find they had lost their luster from the journey. That same year, he travelled to California to study how Italian families harvested cherries.

“After he learned some new harvest techniques, he brought them to the family co-op, who turned him down because they didn’t have the money at the time to build a cold chain or hire a larger crew,” says Tate. “My grandmother spelled it out plainly for him saying ‘Tommy, you figure out what’s wrong and fix it, or go get a job to support this family.’ He had two choices in that moment, and he chose to fix his problems.”

Headshot: Tate Mathison
Tate Mathison

In 1964, Tom founded Stemilt Growers and began packing his own cherries in a small-scale facility that he constructed. After his first year as a grower-packer, one buyer followed Tom’s cherries all the way back to Washington State because he had to see where these cherries came from. They were crisp, red and firm and nothing like anything he had seen before.

“The buyer said to Tom, ‘when I opened up your box, the cherries shined like rubies!’” says Tate. “Though California seemed to have the best cherries, Tom was growing in Washington, and the quality of his cherries were better because of the unique and optimal growing climate on Stemilt Hill. My dad, Kyle, says the cool air comes to kiss cherries good night every day. It’s easily 10-15 degrees cooler in the Stemilt Hill region than it is in Washington State. The combination of these factors is what helps flavor, sugar and firmness develop into cherries with dessert eating qualities.”

Today, Stemilt is one of the largest employers in the Wenatchee Valley and looks to a future of freshness, innovation, and authenticity for years to come. Innovation remains a strong pillar at Stemilt, with in-house research and development that has led the grower to brand and market new varieties in recent years like Rave® apples, Happi Pear®, and Aura® apples.

To provide a sustainable solution for selling bulk organic apples, Stemilt released a recyclable 4 pack of apples, called EZ Band in 2023 that is meant to be easy to stock, shop and help retailers capture organic ring at the register.

“Tom wanted to go to market with Stemilt, but he was also a big collaborator and wanted to advance quality for the industry as a whole,” says West. “Because of Tom, Stemilt has carried on his legacy of overcoming adversity and adjusting to the challenges you face as a grower.”

To celebrate its family legacy, Stemilt marked it’s official anniversary on January 31, 2024 with birthday party festivities throughout its operations to thank its employees, or Stemilters, for all their efforts during the journey to 60 years. Stemilters enjoyed treats, photo opportunities, and watched a podcast featuring West Mathison to hear the story of where Stemilt came from, and the strong vision for its next 60 years. Stemilt will continue its celebration throughout the year, and through a focus on the family legacies alive at Stemilt with the produce industry.

Photo: Stemilt anniversary cupcakes group
Photo: 60th Cupcakes

“The 60th anniversary celebration was a special occasion for everyone at Stemilt, and is made possible by our Stemilters, growers, and partner customers that have been part of our journey,” said West. “Every one of our Stemilters, growers, customers and consumers are part of this generational journey. With freshness as our guiding post, we hope to continue delight the world with World Famous Fruit for years to come.”

About Stemilt

Stemilt is a family-owned grower, packer, and shipper of tree fruit. Owned and operated by the Mathison family, Stemilt’s mission is to cultivate people and delight consumers with its World Famous Fruits. Stemilt is a leader in sweet cherries and organic tree fruits, and a key supplier of apples and pears. The company stewards an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible business through its Responsible Choice® program, which has been in place since 1989For more information about Stemilt, visit


Elizabeth Price – Communications Specialist – – (509) 662-9667 x1268 

Source: Stemilt Growers, LLC.