West Mathison grew up working and playing in the orchards of Washington’s Stemilt Growers — a natural fit, since the company was founded by his grandfather, Tom Mathison, in 1964.
“Fruit agriculture has just been part of my life since I was a kid,” Mathison says. “There’s something about it — you just enjoy the final product so much.”
Mathison, the president of Stemilt Growers, is one of a long line of fruit farmers in his family. The earliest Stemilt orchards were planted in the late 1800s and have been growing apples, cherries, pears and other stone fruit ever since. Stemilt has since grown into the world’s largest sweet-cherry shipper.
With so much fruit growing all around, it would seem like adding a new crop would be old hat for Mathison. But, he says, there’s a newer apple that has really gotten the Stemilt organization excited: SweeTango.
“It’s the first fall apple we harvest,” Mathison says, “and we love it. It marks the end of one year’s crop and the beginning of another.”
Mathison says the flavor and eating experience of SweeTango have helped drive sales in recent years as customers look for apples that stand out. “It’s got ‘that flavor,’ which keeps people coming back for more,” he says.
After high school, Mathison went to college to study business management and agriculture. He worked for a time in consulting and technology, but says he missed the experience of being an apple grower. So, after a few years in the corporate world, he returned to Stemilt, and he hasn’t looked back.
“When you bring in a new crop of fruit, it’s like an exclamation point on the whole season,” he says. “The line from the orchard to the customer is so direct — fruit really makes people happy.”