Norm Gutzwiler of Wenatchee, Washington, has retired after 33 years as a field horticulturist, though he plans to keep busy farming his own cherry orchards and serving on fruit industry organizations.
Gutzwiler, one of seven children, grew up on a cherry, apple, and apricot orchard at Wenatchee Heights. After high school, he attended Wenatchee Valley College, then joined the Marine Corps and spent 14 months in Vietnam. On his return, he completed his agriculture studies and went to work as a field representative for Chamberlain Distributing in Wenatchee, while leasing orchards.
In 1974, he joined Skookum, Inc., in Wenatchee, as a field horticulturist and remained with the cooperative when it merged with Blue Bird, Inc., of Peshastin. He has worked there ever since.
“I enjoyed working with the growers and the industry and watching it grow through those years and the changes,” Gutzwiler said. “It’s still a dynamic industry. Unfortunately, we have our struggles, but sometimes we become a better industry because of those kinds of struggles. I think the industry’s going to be here for a long time to come.”
Gutzwiler has had his own orchard since 1977, and until recently grew apples and pears as well as cherries. He now grows cherries at Rock Island, Malaga, and Wenatchee Heights, starting out with the early Chelan cherry, and ending with Sweethearts on the Heights.
“Cherries are a gamble,” he acknowledged. “But if you stay diverse and do everything the way you should, and raise quality fruit, and don’t pick when you have rained-on cherries, you can still be profitable in the cherry industry.”
Gutzwiler, a board member of the Washington State Fruit Commission for 20 years, said he expects Northwest cherry production to grow, but thinks there’s a strong market.
“The Fruit Commission has done a good job of finding new markets throughout the United States and off shore, and I have great confidence in them,” he said.
Gutzwiler is chair of the Northwest Cherry Institute, the first person in the Wenatchee district to hold that position. He is a board member of the National Cherry Growers and Industries Foundation, the Chelan County Fair, and the Chelan County Public Utilities District, and is on the cherry advisory committee for the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission. He is a past president of the North Central Washington’s Fieldmen’s Association and a former member of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association.
In 2000, he was named the Washington Apple Blossom Festival’s Apple Citizen of the Year in recognition of his work with youth agriculture programs and other industry organizations. He serves on the Wenatchee High School Agriculture Advisory Committee and has served on the Wenatchee Valley College Tree Fruit Advisory Board. He was a 4-H leader for 26 years.