Many people have contributed to Michigan’s fruit industry, but Stanley Johnston stands above the rest. Johnston not only developed a new peach that is the most widely grown peach in the world today. He also made Michigan the nation’s leading producer of blueberries.
Johnston was the superintendent of Michigan State University’s (MSU) experiment station in South Haven from 1920 to 1969. There, he developed a better peach. Johnston took peaches that had good features, like ones that ripened at different times or did not turn brown when canned or frozen. He took pollen from the male plant and joined it to the flower of the female plant. When the fruit grew, he collected seeds and started a new tree. When the tree produced fruit five years later, he could see if he made a better peach.
During his career, Johnston grew and studied more than 20,000 peach trees. Eight different types, called “havens” (for South Haven), were planted by farmers. Havens ripened earlier, so the peach-growing season was longer, which meant more peaches could be grown and sold. One of these peaches, named Redhaven for its nice red color, is the most popular peach in the world today.
Johnston received much praise for his work with peaches. Comparing him to an artist, one man called Johnston a “Picasso among peach breeders-a plant breeding artist.”
Johnston also worked with blueberries. In 1923, few blueberries were grown in Michigan. Some people thought it was too cold to grow blueberries in Michigan. Johnston believed they could be grown here because of the “lake effect,” which provided a more moderate climate for southwest Michigan. With his own money, Johnston went to New Jersey and bought some blueberry plants. He planted them in South Haven and they grew well. Johnston showed other farmers the best way to grow blueberries. Today, Michigan leads the nation in growing commercial blueberries, producing 35 percent of the country’s blueberries.
Stanley Johnston’s gift to South Haven was helping farmers in the area. His gifts to us are many, including the delicious Michigan blueberries and peaches we continue to enjoy today.
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