For generations, the Seaquist family has grown apple and cherry trees north of Sister Bay in Door County. While in the middle of the family’s busy cherry harvest, Dale Seaquist took time to give a tour of their orchards and processing facility. In our time together, Dale shared a bit of his family’s history. His ancestor, Andres Seaquist, was the first generation to come to the United States from Sweden where he was a carpenter. He worked in Wisconsin’s timber industry until, as Dale says, “he followed Johnny Appleseed” and realized the Door County peninsula was an ideal region for growing fruit trees.
Dale laughed when he said his grandfather bought 700 fruit trees for six cents per tree. Today, Seaquist buys their trees for about $6 a piece. Using a fishing boat, Andres hauled the fruit to various markets. Not falling far from the tree, Dale and his wife, Kristin, are the fourth generation to run the family orchard. Today, they grow nearly 1,000 acres of tart cherries and more than 50 acres of apples and sweet cherries. Dale said the family has about 30 varieties of experimental sweet cherries, each with their own stories.
Managing an orchard requires a lot of precision planning. A cherry tree will grow for about five years before it can be harvested. Seaquist Orchards said they can get about 20 years of production out of a cherry tree. Once an orchard reaches its age limit, the trees are removed and chopped into mulch to be used in the next planting.
Throughout the decades of their family business, technology helped the orchard stay fruitful. Dale said he built a machine to encircle cherry trees and mechanize harvest nearly 50 years ago. They can completely harvest four cherry trees a minute, but it only takes about seven seconds for the machine to shake the cherries off a tree. Each tree has nearly 7,000 cherries, enough to make 28 pies! Dale also engineered much of the technology available in their processing facility. Despite advancements from his designs, Dale said he is most proud to have a new crop of family coming into the business with their own children and grandchildren continuing the family legacy in Door County.
“We have about 15 family members in the business,” Dale said. “You can’t engineer that.”
Dale said last year, the orchard harvested 9 million pounds of cherries. Wisconsin’s total tart cherry production totaled 11.3 million pounds in 2017, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. The value of Wisconsin’s utilized tart cherry crop totaled $2.11 million.
Once the cherries are harvested, the fruit travels to a processing plant centrally located among all of the family’s orchards in Door County. The plant de-stems, sorts, pits and packs the cherries into different sizes. Throughout the process, there are several inspections that take place to ensure the fruit that leaves the plant are safe and wholesome for all consumers. You can watch a video of the entire process here!
Now that we know the story of Wisconsin’s famous Door County cherries, I want to know, do you take your cherries tart, sweet, or baked in pies and pastries?