Washington Apple Country History
Early in the ninteenth century, when small family orchards first began to cultivate their fruits for market, growers manually packed their own apples. This practice continued for more than one hundred years, but by 1926 it had become more economically feasible for task-specific companies to do the packing. Until the 1960s, this was multi-step process which involved both mechanical and human labour. The apples were mechanically washed and dried, with the bad ones removed by hand. The remaining apples were sorted by size and packed for shipping, also by hand.
Today this whole operation is predominantly mechanized. Although cull apples are still removed by hand, sorting the varieties by size, weight, and color is now done by machines with electronic sensors.
Since the early 1900s, many of the apples to be packed have been kept in controlled atmosphere storage. This process has advanced greatly over the years as scientific and technological know-how has increased. Current procedure involves sealing the apples for a minimum of 90 days in a 32 degree chamber which contains less than 5 percent oxygen and virtually no carbon dioxide at roughly 90 percent humidity. The quicker the apples are transferred from the orchards to the chamber the better.
[Read about CA storage in Washington]
When growers first began to share the fruits of their labors, so to speak, they had to find ways to collate larger quantities of produce for transport. Family members at both Larson Fruit Company, in Selah, and at Matson Fruit, in Yakima, inaugurated their marketing efforts by hand packing apples into wooden boxes for distribution.
The next time you are selecting apples from the produce section at the local grocery store, take a look at the small stickers on some of the varieties you have chosen. Chances are better than even that you will discover the image of a ladybug atop the red outline of two mountain peaks. That symbol, known throughout the world, belongs to the largest fruit growers co-operative in the state of Washington, Stemilt.
Other packing houses specialize in exporting Washington fruits to major world markets. Northern Fruit Company, which began operations in 1928 from a three story brick warehouse on Columbia Street in Wenatchee, now assembles one million boxes of apples every year, and has developed an export program which annually sends apples, cherries, and pears to some forty-five different countries. Oneonta Trading Corporation was established with world-wide export of Washington fruits as its raison d'etre.
[brief histories of major packing houses in Washington]