Inventor of produce stickers, Tom Mathison, dies

Many a time I have stood over my kitchen sink, trying to peel little oval stickers off a pear or a sweet red pepper, silently cursing whoever it was that invented the produce identifiers.

Well, now I feel just horribly, because Tom Mathison, founder of Stemilt Growers and the first man to use produce stickers on a commercial scale, died December 26 at his home on Stemilt Hill, in Washington. In addition to instigating the widespread use of little stickers -- which were actually a really smart marketing strategy as well as being useful to grocers -- he believed in paying his growers a sustainable price for their fruit, and he began experimenting with organic growing systems long before anyone else was considering them. Other growers call him an "icon" with "caring" and "passion," telling the story of the year he only made $89 in profit (before growing his 35-acre farm to an operation that shipped more than 20 million boxes of apples, pears and cherries each year) and say that he was looking after the cherry crops to the very end.

I'll take a different view of those little stickers and think about Mathison next time I peel one off over my kitchen sink.

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