Anyone recall this? For those of us too young to remember, yes...Kalamazoo was indeed “Celery City”. Thousands of acres of land stretching out from north Kalamazoo through Comstock and down into the Portage area were perfect for celery farming.

During the Ice Age, a glacier hitchhiked down through Michigan and took a breather in the upper part of what is now Kalamazoo County. Without going into too much detail, this caused acres and acres of muck that contained rich soil, perfect for growing celery.

All fine and good, but who thought of growing celery in the first place?

One story says it was George Taylor who came here from Scotland, bringing with him celery seeds. He planted them in the muck and up sprung the stalks. After hearing about a ball that was to be held and attended by the area's upper crust, he offered his celery free of charge to the banquet hall if they put it on the menu. They did, and the crowd went wild for the celery.

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From there, the rest of the public caught on and soon celery-mania spread through Kalamazoo. According to the Kalamazoo Public Library, other immigrants came to settle and farm celery; and by 1910, “six and one-half pages in the Kalamazoo City Directory were devoted to celery growers.”

City street corners had celery boys standing next to paper boys, pushing their wares into the faces of commuters and travelers. During the 1930s, it was almost impossible to visit Kalamazoo and not have celery stuck in your face and hawked at you. Even the train depots had celery salesmen bothering travelers who were waiting for trains.

This rabid interest in celery finally made its way to scammers and con men...and bogus medicines. Soon, quack products were looming onto the public, with medicinal celery cure that would “purify blood, quiet nerves, regulate the liver, renovate the kidneys, relieve stomach disorders, and treat nervous disease”.

Another theory as to who started the celery craze points to Cornelius De Bruin from the Netherlands who came to Kalamazoo in 1866. He was somewhere near the corner of Cedar and Westnedge when he spotted an unfamiliar plant growing. After asking the property owner if he could use the seeds to plant in his own garden, he started growing his own celery, which began the onslaught of Kalamazoo celery.

Although celery-mania was dying down in the 1930s, in 1939 there were still over one thousand acres of functioning cultivated celery land. Thanks to competition, failure to use new techniques, failure to rotate crops, and paper mills lowering the water table, “Celery City” soon became a non-entity. In the 1950s, Kalamazoo's new nickname became “Mall City”.

By the year 2000, the area's last celery farmer stalked his last......or did he?

Kalamazoo, The Celery City: Early-Mid-1900s


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