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In the early years of fruit ranching in the Pacific Northwest, most growers worked hard to establish a brand identity for their own fruit. In fact, this was one of the principal reasons fruit box labels became so popular. However, it did not take long for growers to realize that their marketing dollars and efforts would have a bigger impact (and, eventually, larger sales) if there were a pooled strategy.

In 1922, a small group of apple growers in the Tieton-Cowiche area of the Yakima Valley in central Washington State decided it would be to their advantage to form a cooperative organization through which they could pack and sell their fruit crops. These growers named this new organization Cowiche Growers, which remains in existence today.

For nearly 87 years, Cowiche Growers have been packing and shipping fruit under the Hy-Land Kids label.

In 1923, construction began on a simple 50 foot by 100 foot, one-story warehouse with a full basement. The most modern packing equipment was installed, and the cooperative assumed that this structure would meet its needs for the foreseeable future. But in just one year of operation, it became apparent that the building was too small, and the growing company was forced to rapidly build several additions.

Joint marketing proved so successful that a sales arm, called the Yakima Fruit Exchange, was formed. By 1927, Cowiche Growers realized the need to convert its building to accommodate better cold storage and allow them to release fruit more slowly for sale. They even saw the future was in using electric power to run the cold-storage compressor, and hence sold their old diesel engine to a mining company.

After World War II, further expansion was urgently needed, and in 1946, the growers agreed to build a new packing facility and a new cold-storage unit. Taking advantage of the U.S. government’s decision to sell surplus buildings at its Hanford nuclear site, Cowiche Growers purchased the large Hanford recreation hall and used it as part of the new cold-storage construction. In the 1970s, controlled atmospheric technology was added, and storage capacity doubled.

The Hy-Land Kids labels shown here should be studied carefully because, although they look generally similar, there are some distinct differences. The earliest labels are from the 1920s and 1930s; they depict nonsmiling kids and are further dated by the fact that all carry a 40 lbs. weight designation. Beginning around the time of World War II in the early 1940s, the economy had rebounded, the country was generally more prosperous (despite being in the throes of a worldwide conflict), and the Hy-Land Kids came to have big grins on their faces.

Also shown is a label from the original Cowiche Growers’s sales organization, the Yakima Fruit Exchange. This green version (far left label) is the only known Hy-Land Kids label of its type from the Fruit Exchange because Cowiche Growers withdrew it in 1929. The final Hy-land Kids labels were modernized and redrawn for use in the 1950s and 1960s; examples are illustrated with this article as well. Every collector has a favorite version; which do you like the best?

It should also be noted that the Yakima Valley Museum is appreciative of the Cowiche Growers and their Hy-Land Kids labels. Over 30 years ago, Wilbur (George) Nelson retired from Cowiche Growers and donated his collection of very rare apple and pear crate labels to the museum. Nelson came along with the labels as the museum’s first volunteer fruit-box-label curator and began the process of building the museum’s collection in this area. Delmar (Del) Bice followed George in this role, and for the past 20 years, Del has overseen the growth, organization, preservation, and study of the Yakima Valley Museum’s collection, which now contains approximately 6,000 unique apple and pear labels.