A Labor of Love

Kyle and Jan Mathison hold a special place in their hearts for Washington State University. Not only is WSU where they received the education that would help prepare them for a career in agriculture, it is also where they met and fell in love.

No wonder they recently receive WSU’s highest honor, the Alumni Achievement Award. The do more than give back: they lead the way for others.

The Mathisons were recognized for their contributions to the regional and global tree fruit industry, for environmental stewardship and resource conservation leadership, and their boundless devotion to both their community and their alma mater. The Mathisons, too, are recognized by their peers as innovative fruit growers on two continents whose contributions enhance lives, benefit the world, and improve productivity and sustainability.

After marrying and graduating from WSU, Kyle in 1976 with a degree in horticulture and Jan in 1979 with a degree in general studies and humanities, the couple moved to Wenatchee and began farming.

Now, more than 30 years later, Kyle and Jan own and operate Stemilt Growers Inc., Stemilt Creek Winery and Kyle Mathison Orchards.

Kyle Mathison picking cherries
Kyle Mathison picking cherries

On their 750-acre orchard, the Mathison’s grow cherries, apples, pears, apricots, wine grapes and blueberries. Stemilt Growers Inc. is now the largest fresh cherry grower-packer-shipper in the United States, with cherries farmed in Washington, California and Chile.

“Growing up, I admired my dad and wanted to excel at growing high-quality cherries like he did,” Kyle said.

“Good Wife, Good Wine”

Together, Kyle and Jan seek to do the best that they can in every aspect of farming. Kyle called himself the risk-taker of the family, while Jan described herself as the nurturer. According to Kyle, from taking care of the home to overseeing the winemaking process, Jan does everything with love.

Jan said her goal in the winemaking process is to develop memory in the consumer so they continue to purchase Stemilt wine. She said she wants consumers to think, “Wow. That is great (wine).”

“In the Bible it says a good wife makes good wine,” Jan said.

Responsible Choices

Kyle and Jan Mathison
Kyle and Jan Mathison

In 1989, Stemilt launched a program called Responsible Choice to increase their environmental efforts and to conserve natural resources. The Mathison’s efforts include redesigning their fruit packaging to make it easier to recycle, adding more organic orchards, replacing synthetic fertilizers with compost made on their own farm, and installing drip irrigation and micro-sprinklers in their orchards to save water.

“Taking care of our water, land and people through sustainable agriculture is good for the environment, and it’s good for the tree fruit industry,” Kyle said.

Being a Cougar Is Its Own Reward

The Mathison’s have received several awards for their environmental efforts, including the Association of Washington Business Resource Conservation Award and the Better Health Foundation’s National Excellence Award for health related fruit promotions.

With everything going on in their lives, the Mathison’s haven’t forgotten their alma mater or what it has done for them. Kyle credits WSU for the technical and artistic skills he uses everyday at work, as well as for bringing him and his future wife together.

The Mathison’s have paid tribute to WSU by becoming life members of the WSU Alumni Association and staying active in the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center.

“Being a Coug is something special,” Jan said.

by Bethany Carpenter