USGenWeb Project

KALAMAZOO  COUNTY, MI

GENEALOGY & LOCAL HISTORY

CELERY CULTIVATION

HISTORY

LINKS TO TOPIC HEADINGS ON THIS PAGE

Celery Cultivation In Kalamazoo History of Celery in Kalamazoo
Celery Facts Growing Celery - Washington Post
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History of Celery in Kalamazoo

A historical marker, replicated below, located at Park Street and Crosstown Parkway in Kalamazoo credits George Taylor with bringing Celery to Kalamazoo in 1856 (see the George Taylor Recollections ).  It also credits Cornelius De Bruin with starting celery production in Kalamazoo. Willis Dunbar in Kalamazoo and how it grew wrote that as early as 1871, celery was shipped from Kalamazoo. Soon, hundreds of acres of muck lands were cleared for celery cultivation. The earliest celery farms were established in what was, at the time, southern Kalamazoo.

  KALAMAZOO CELERY   A SCOTSMAN, NAMED TAYLOR, GREW THE FIRST CELERY IN KALAMAZOO IN 1856.  DINERS AT THE BURDICK HOTEL REGARDED IT WITH CURIOSITY.  CORNELIUS DE BRUYN, A GARDENER, WHO CAME HERE FROM THE NETHERLANDS IN 1866, DEVELOPED THE MODERN TYPE OF CELERY FROM THE EARLIER SOUP CELERY.  OTHER DUTCH FARMERS BY 1872 WERE TURNING THE KALAMAZOO MUCKLANDS INTO FIELDS OF CELERY.  J.S. DUNKLEY SOLD MEDICINES AND CONDIMENTS MADE OF CELERY. SOON KALAMAZOO CELERY WAS KNOWN THE NATION OVER.  MICHIGAN HAS BEEN A LEADING CELERY PRODUCER EVER SINCE.

In Kalamazoo, the Place Behind the Products Larry Massie and Peter Schmidt stated that, "As early as the 1870s  celery had been hawked at the the Michigan Central Railroad Station (see the History Page ) .  By the 1890s, vendors boarded stopped trains and offered stalks of celery to puzzled travelers. People who remembered nothing else about Kalamazoo remembered celery."  Kalamazoo had become known, and promoted itself, as the "Celery City" due to the success of celery cultivation in the city and the surrounding area.  

Before the 1870's celery was a little known vegetable in North America and not much better known in Europe even in Holland whose emigrants became associated with its cultivation in Kalamazoo.  Celery was apparently the right product at the right time.  It became very popular in many parts of county in a few years.

 click on link to see photo
Celeriac, root celery, better known than "stalk" celery until Kalamazoo became a major producer of stalk celery

The importance of celery cultivation to Kalamazoo was not only its economic success, but the associated Dutch immigration (see the Dutch Heritage Page ) and the addition of a new kind of farming in Kalamazoo County.  Before celery, farming in Kalamazoo was general farming; farmers grew a variety of crops and raised many kinds of animals primarily for home consumption.  Farming for cash was often limited to diary products and crops such as wheat that had to be processed.  Celery was strictly a cash crop and a delicate plant that required continuing attention; intensive farming known in continental Europe, but not in the large farms of  America.

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click on link to see photo
BLANCHING

"Celery is here being prepared for market on one of the farms near Kalamazoo.  In its natural state celery is bitter, tough and unsuitable for food.  This condition was remedied in earlier days by banking the rows with earth.  The stalks then turned white and acquired the flavor we all know.  Now the celery growers save themselves much of this trouble, for they have found that closely packed plants will blanch themselves without earth, if properly confined between planks as is being done at the left picture.  The process of blanching not only turns the stalks white, but makes them tender and crisp"

Kalamazoo celery district

There was already a sizeable Dutch community in western Michigan.  Holland had intensive farming, a dense population, and people ready to emigrate for economic opportunity.  The almost inevitable connection was made and Dutch emigrants came to Kalamazoo to take up celery cultivation.  Celery farming caused little resentment because it utilized what been considered waste lands such as swamps unsuitable for general farming.

Celery remained an important, but declining industry as paper production and other manufactures became a larger part of the local economy.  After WWII land devoted to celery steadily gave way to bedding plants. 

As of 2000 only one grower, planting about 300 acres,  remained in Kalamazoo County.

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Celery Facts

Celery Facts from the Michigan Celery Promotion Co-op

1.Celery is grown from seed in a greenhouse for six to eight weeks. Then it's transplanted into a field of dark, moist organic soil called muck.

2. It only takes one ounce of celery seeds to grow one acre of celery.

3. There are 1,000,000 seeds in one pound of celery seeds.

4. Most celery growers plant from 32,000 to 42,000 plants per acre.

5. There is a Celery Museum in Portage, Michigan - see the Celery Flats Interpretive Center page

6.The two main types of celery are Pascal and Golden Heart. However, only several varieties of Pascal are still grown commercially.

7. Celery is from the same plant family as carrots, parsley, fennel and caraway.

8. The name 'celery' is from the French word 'celeri'.

Additional celery facts from Michigan State University's 
College of Agriculture and Natural Resources'
MIchigan Crop Profiles -1999 Profile for Celery in MIchigan

All Michigan celery is established from transplants. Because of the high cost of production, a complete stand of uniform, perfectly spaced plants is needed to obtain maximum yields. Celery is a cool season crop that produces highest yields and best quality at temperatures 
of 60 to 80 F. Young and mature plants can withstand light frosts, but prolonged frosts at temperatures below 28 F will cause damage. Celery is also a shallow-rooted crop; most roots are in the upper 18 inches of soil. It is therefore very susceptible to drought, requiring about 1 to 2 inches of water per week throughout the growing season, and should only be grown where irrigation is available. 

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Growing Celery

Celery Worth the Trouble to Grow
By Barbara Damrosch
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, March 18, 2004; Page H08

Celery is a crop that everybody eats and hardly anybody grows. Some people love its crisp, mild taste, but for many, celery is simply there. It's something you use to transport cream cheese or onion dip to the mouth, a sort of edible cutlery.

 I can't imagine cooking without it. Turkey stuffing without celery? Or chicken salad, potato salad, egg salad? There must always be a bunch in the fridge to brown with onions and carrots as the base for a stock or a soup.

If you have ever raised celery and done it well, you know that the homegrown stalk is better than what comes in the bag. For one thing, it always has leaves, which are good for the stockpot and delicious fresh in a salad or ham sandwich. Veteran celery growers also know that this is not a crop you plant casually -- perhaps the real reason it is not a present garden staple. It is fussy about moisture, temperature and soil, and you can't turn your back on its needs. Consider yourself an accomplished gardener if you can produce magnificent celery. Historically, celery is a marsh plant from the Mediterranean, noted by Homer. The original form, consumed for its strongly flavored leaves or used medicinally, was called "smallage" by the English, and now sprouts up wild in damp places all over the world. 

The stalk celery we eat now was developed in England and was first cultivated as a serious crop in America by Dutch farmers who settled around Kalamazoo, Mich. Accustomed to working wet soils, and shod with stout wooden shoes, they grew celery in the region's rich, mucky fields. Before long the succulent novelty was being peddled to train passengers who paused at the Kalamazoo station. From there it spread by rail as a snack food.

Those marshy beginnings are a clue to good celery culture. Although it won't grow in standing water, the soil must be kept continuously moist for germination, growth and good flavor. It's also a hungry crop. Think wheelbarrow loads of well-rotted manure, well-moistened peat, well humified mature compost, the more the better. If your soil is deficient in calcium, celery may develop an ugly disease called black heart. Digging in a bit of crabshell meal (a Maryland byproduct) or just simple garden lime should do the trick.

The tiny seeds, which are slow to germinate, are usually started indoors, in flats of well-moistened soil mix about 10 weeks before danger of frost has passed. It is important not to transplant them outdoors too soon. Celery is a biennial that sets seed its second year. If you bring it outside while temperatures are still below 50 degrees, it will think its first winter has arrived, then send up a tough flower stalk at the center when the weather starts to warm.

I suggest planting the heads in a double row, set a foot apart each way. Do it on a cloudy day to avoid heat stress. After that, the trick is to never let the celery stop growing. Pay close attention to watering, and dose with manure tea or liquid fish fertilizer if growth is slow or the foliage is pale. You can harvest the outer stalks as you need them for the kitchen, or wait and cut the mature bunches before the stalks turn pithy.

There is still time to start a crop if you can find seedlings for sale at a nursery. Otherwise wait till mid-June to sow your flats, then set out seedlings in August for a fall crop. Celery likes the cooling days of fall and will even stand light frosts. It'll store a month or two in a cold cellar if you leave the roots on and cover it to keep it from drying out. Or use a spare fridge.

In the old days, celery was laboriously blanched in the field to make it tender. Then pale "self-blanching" varieties were developed. But they were less tasty and nutritious, and modern green varieties like Ventura, which need no blanching, make more sense. Despite these advances, it's still a Cinderella crop. You will rarely find celery in gourmet seed catalogues, although you might find something called "cutting celery," which is not far removed from the old smallage and essentially a leaf crop. Once known as "soup celery," it is easy to grow.

I am sometimes amazed at how we take our staple foods for granted, how we stroll by them in the market, or toss them into the cart with so little awareness of what kind of trail led them to us. Next time you reach for a celery stick, don't dwell on the fact that it's not a doughnut or a cookie. Imagine it's 1890 and you're on a train pulling into Kalamazoo. Someone hands you a green stalk. It's so crunchy and full of moisture, so alive, so new.

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LINKS

Off Site Links
Celery Production in Michigan Celery Historical Marker

Pages On This Site
Celery Cultivation In Kalamazoo Celery Flats Interpretive Center Celery Growers and Shippers in Kalamazoo
Celery Image Gallery Dutch in Kalamazoo George Taylor's Recollection's
The man who started celery cultivation in Kalamazoo
  Portage Bicentennial Park  

Return to Kalamazoo Co. Michigan USGenWeb page


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