Washington State Magazine

Fall 2010 cover

Fall 2010

Cultivated Landscapes

In This Issue...


Back to the city :: Agriculture is rooting its way back into the urban landscape. As King County's farm specialist, Steve Evans '78, '82 has watched agriculture disappear from the area. But now some of the land is going to smaller farms with high value crops. Meanwhile, small farms agent Bee Cha helps East African refugees farm in the urban Pacific Northwest. by Hannelore Sudermann

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Gallery: Urban agriculture, Gallery 1 and Urban agriculture, Gallery 2 Scenes of urban farms and agriculture around Seattle and Tacoma. Photography by Zach Mazur '06. }

Cultivating new energy :: If only we could simply grow our own fuel. Washington State researchers are looking at the possibilities. by Eric Sorensen

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Slideshow: Renewable Energy from Wind }

The kinder, gentler orchard :: The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 initiated the gradual phasing out of organophosphate pesticides. By 2012, the major chemical defense against wormy apples will no longer be available. But not to worry, thanks to a continuous refinement of Integrated Pest Management and collaboration amongst growers, industry fieldmen, and WSU researchers. by Tim Steury

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Gallery: Cultivated Landscapes Scenes around Washington by photographer Zach Mazur '06. }


One version of pastoral :: Shakespeare offers little in terms of convincing natural description. His Forest of Arden is praised for what it isn't rather than what it is. by Will Hamlin

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Gallery: Erratic Boulders Boulders scattered around Waterville Plateau in north central Washington. Photography by Zach Mazur '06. }



:: FIRST WORDS : The Cultivated Landscape

:: SPORTS: Tools for training

:: IN SEASON: Walla Walla Sweets

:: LAST WORDS: Spiritual landscapes

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Video: Grilling Walla Walla Sweet Onions }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Gallery: Walla Walla Sweet Onions Photography by Chris Anderson. }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Video: Pumping Up in the new WSU Weight Training Facility }


{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Video: Clips from Back to the Garden From the documentary by Kevin Tomlinson '75 }

Cover illustration: Stone City West by Robin Moline.
Read more about the cover and order a poster version.

Apples being dumped. Courtesy Tree Top.


Apples being dumped. Courtesy Tree Top

Tree Top: Creating a fruit revolution

by | © Washington State University

Book review

In the September 10, 1951, issue of Life magazine is a picture of a bulldozer mounding apples in the Yakima dump. Seven acres of apples worth $6 million dollars rotted as pigs rooted through them, the result of failing foreign markets and high tariffs. At the time, if Washington’s apples didn’t sell, orchardists paid $5 a ton to have their culls hauled off to rot.

Culls are rejected from the fresh fruit market due primarily to shape, size, or color, but they are perfectly sound for such traditional uses as juice. The photograph aptly illustrated the need for a processing company like Tree Top, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary and is the subject of a new history by David Stratton and published by WSU Press, as an integral part of the tree fruit industry.

In Tree Top: Creating a Fruit Revolution, Stratton relates an assessment of the three major developments that transformed the apple industry: the switch from apple boxes to bins, controlled atmosphere storage, and the success of Tree Top.

Started by William Henry Charbonneau, described variously as eccentric, perfectionist, irascible, and roughshod, Tree Top from the beginning created an economic cushion for growers, a safety net against a volatile market. With its original plant and offices in Selah, Tree Top began by making filtered juice of local surplus and cull apples, then spread throughout Washington’s apple growing region.

Although the beginnings of Tree Top go back to 1944, when Charbonneau bought Pomona Products Company, the company’s true potential did not reveal itself until he turned it into a grower cooperative and made himself general manager in 1960. Supply was the driver for the move. Building a company on the growers and guaranteeing that it would buy everything brought in, a policy that endured until last year, Tree Top solidified its supply and set the stage for great expansion. Charbonneau’s insistence on the goodness of the juice is what built the company’s reputation and grower loyalty.

Production and profitability exploded in the 1960s and 1970s. Sales grew from $1.3 million in 1961 to $7.1 million in 1969-70. Sales increased from there, growing an average of 20 percent a year, reaching $137 million in 1982.

Despite setbacks in the mid-80s and during the fruit industry downturn in the early 2000s, Tree Top has continued strongly to the present, expanding its products from the original juice and juice concentrate to many apple and pear products, from pear-based sweeteners to the dried “blueberries” in your breakfast cereal, which are actually colored dried apples.

But Charbonneau’s major contribution was the introduction, following the citrus industry’s lead, of frozen concentrated juice. Not only did the concentrate meet immediate consumer approval, the greatly reduced volume and weight made national expansion of Tree Top’s market possible.

“Today, “ writes Stratton in his preface, “in fulfillment of Charbonneau’s vision, Tree Top’s seven plants produce apple juice and cider as the backbone of its retail market in 30 states, with the core outlets in the West and Southwest, and also distribute consumer packaged goods, such as fresh apple slices, blends with other juices, and apple sauce.”

The Tree Top cooperative currently has approximately 1,100 members, down from its historical numbers. But acreage has increased significantly. “This profile of fewer growers, but larger holdings,” writes Stratton, “reflected a continuing trend in the overall Washington apple industry.”

Stratton’s book joins another recent work as a major contribution to the history of the tree fruit industry in Washington. He credits WSU graduate student Amanda L. Van Lanen for her help in the research and writing of Tree Top. At the same time Van Lanen was also finishing her dissertation on the history of the Washington apple industry, “We Have Grown Fine Fruit Whether We Would or No”: The History of the Washington State Apple Industry, 1880–1930. A fine read, it is available electronically through the WSU Libraries website.

Categories: Business, Agriculture | Tags: Tree Top, Apples, Northwest history, Books

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