When it comes to Wisconsin cherries, Door County is at the center of the industry. Or, as Jon Jarosh of the Door County Visitor Bureau puts it, “We are the heart of the state’s cherry industry. Almost all of Wisconsin’s cherry crops are grown here in Door County.”
That’s been the case since the 1890s, when cherry trees were first planted in the county, located on the peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan. Both geographically and geologically, it’s an ideal region for growing the primarily tart cherries Door County is known for.
“Conditions are suitable here for cherry trees,” says Jarosh.
Surrounded by water, the county enjoys winters that aren’t typically bitter cold and, therefore, its lands are protected against early frost and likely to have conditions for proper pollination in the spring.
In addition, the area sits atop the Niagara Escarpment, which runs from Wisconsin through Canada and to Niagara, New York. “We are situated on literally hundreds of feet of dolomite limestone,” Jarosh says. “Cherry trees can get their roots down into that and get their nutrients.”
Cherry Farms Aplenty
There was a time when cherries were so prolific in Door County that it had the nickname Cherryland USA. The county was the largest producer of tart cherries in the country in the mid- 1900s. “What’s amazing is that all those cherries were picked by hand,” Jarosh says.
“Now, 90 percent are picked by machine.” Of course, cherry orchards, processors and markets are plentiful in Door County. Notable ones include Cherry Lane Orchards in Sturgeon Bay, Orchard Country Winery & Market in Fish Creek and Choice Orchards Farm Market in Sturgeon Bay.
A Sight to See
The largest cherry farm in Door County, and the oldest still operating, is Seaquist Orchards Farm Market in Sister Bay. Anders Seaquist settled there in the early 1900s and soon discovered the favorable conditions for growing cherry trees. In 1983, Dale Seaquist and his son, Jim, formed a partnership and went to work growing the business.
With several family members tending to different aspects of the business today and a large group of young children in line for the future, Seaquist Orchards is indeed a multigenerational operation.
In addition to the boost to the Door County economy from growing, harvesting and processing cherries, industry benefits are also realized in the number of visitors who travel there. They come in the spring, usually in May, when the cherry trees are in blossom, and return in July to early August for harvest time.
“People love coming up here to see the cherry blossoms,” Jarosh says. “They walk through the cherry orchards, or they’ll just drive through the county.