Bite into a Lyall Farms cherry and you taste a piece of history. Charles Lyall, manager and co-owner of his family’s fruit orchard in Mattawa, first started farming at the age of 5, lending a hand picking fruit and moving sprinklers for his father (who grew up farming with his own father). Now 52 years old, Lyall has been in the fruit business for nearly 50 years.
Lyall and his family moved to Mattawa (east of Yakima) in the early 1950s (the family’s original farm was in Grandview). Once a desolate valley of sagebrush and desert, the Lyalls’ land has been transformed into more than 350 acres of lush fruit-tree orchards, boasting apricots, peaches, apples and several varieties of cherries, including Brooks, Van and their biggest seller, Bing. But the first crop the family ever produced on the land is ripe this month: sweet, yellow-hued Rainier cherries.
Much like intrepid Washingtonian Harold Fogle, the first person to cross a Bing with a Van to create the juicy Rainier variety, Lyall and his market manager, Alan Scott, spend their spare moments improving on their cherries, experimenting with new trees and varieties. Scott compares farming to a Vegas run. “It’s kind of like rolling the dice. It’s always a bit of a gamble, planting a new tree. You take a chance and hope it’s going to make you some money.”
The fruits of their labor are available at farmers’ markets from Everett to Puyallup, with a stand year-round at the Ballard Farmers Market and seasonal stands at markets in the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, including Broadway, Phinney, University District and West Seattle.
Charles Lyall (right) and Alan Scott enjoy the fruits of their labor. Photograph by Adam Reitano