There are a lot of immigration stories in Door County, WI. Dale Seaquist, patriarch of Seaquist Orchards, tells one of the best.
“My grandfather left Sweden because of religious oppression. He was a carpenter, and went to a neighboring village to work. While he was gone, a group came and forcibly took the children, baptized them, and sent a bill for the service. He came to America where we could go to church or not go to church—it was our choice.”
The Land of Cherries
It was a good decision for the world of cherries. The family now presides over a thousand or so acres of land planted with tart and sweet cherries, apples, and pears, plus a processing plant and a market where you can find hundreds of products. Seaquist Orchards supplies most of the cherries to the peninsula, too, where they are turned into everything from restaurant specialties (like The White Gull’s Door County Cherry French Toast) to take-home jars of jams, jellies, salsas, and more.
“It didn’t take grandpa long to realize this was a pretty good place for raising fruit,” says Seaquist. “He heard about cherries and ordered 700 trees at six cents apiece.”
Seaquist goes on, with a twinkle in his eye, saying, “He didn’t have a marketing plan but suddenly he had lots of fruit . . .and he had a fish boat. My dad ran that fish boat up and down the coast and got rid of all the fruit!”
Now, Seaquist Orchards is divided into three businesses: the farms, the processing plant, and the market. “We raise 96% of the cherries grown in Wisconsin on this farm,” says Seaquist. While they distribute cherries, they also process their own, making about 70 different products.
Seaquist is proud of his heritage, saying, “More than 90% of farms that transfer from one generation to another fail. We have a fourth generation, a fifth, and a sixth.” He adds, “If you go by a nice orchard anywhere in Door County, it’s ours.”
Part of their success in keeping things in the family includes a pattern of innovation. “We’ve invented machines that help us eliminate some of the hand functions,” he explains. They have a machine to put fertilizer under the trees, and a machine to help harvest the trees, and machines to streamline the processing. But it’s not all mechanized—there is definitely still a human touch in the business, plus, perhaps, something a little more spiritual. “I want to attribute our success to God’s blessing,” says Seaquist. “I really think that’s made the difference.”
This is part of The Food Channel‘s coverage of Door County, Wisconsin, from a recent tour hosted by the Door County Visitor’s Bureau. Find other stories in the series here.
Travel accommodations and tour arrangements in Door County were provided by the Door County Visitors Bureau in conjunction with Geiger & Associates Public Relations.
Photos by Paul K. Logsdon