After a seemingly endless winter, the weather has been warm long enough for the fruit trees to blossom. Michigan leads the red tart cherry market–producing about 75% of the U.S. crop–or about 30,000 of the 37,000 nationwide acres dedicated to the crop. The abundant amount of acreage dedicated to growing cherries has earned Northern Michigan the nickname “Cherry Capital of the World.” Why do we grow so many cherries?
(And I mean we in the geographical sense. Y’all know I have a black thumb, but thankfully there are many hard-working farmers that actually know a thing or two about growing cherries and other such matters.)
The climate here Up North is perfect for growing a myriad of fruits because of the unique micro-climates that exist due to our location on the east side of Lake Michigan. The lake moderates temperatures, which results in long, (hopefully) frost-free autumns and a delayed spring blooming period. The cherry trees in my area didn’t really start blooming until near the end of the second week of May, with peak blooms lasting for an additional 2 weeks.
The lakes, hills and breezes create warm and cool spots that help determine when an orchard will bloom. This fluctuation in temperature can mean that one orchard can be in full bloom up to two weeks before another orchard down the road sees any blooms at all. These moderately tempered micro-climates are the reason that fruit grows so well in the area.
Michigan produces an average of 200 – 250 million pounds of tart cherries. (Total U.S. production averages 250-300 million pounds.) The most prevalent variety of tart cherry grown here is the Montmorency variety. Tart cherries, known as sour cherries or pie cherries, and are rarely sold fresh, but rather are canned or frozen to be used in a myriad of consumer products like pie filling, frozen unsweetened cherries, flavorings, candy, etc. My favorite application of a Montmorency cherry is the sweetened dried cherry. Covered in chocolate, of course.
Michigan is in the top 4 producers of sweet cherries, but most of those are grown in the Pacific Northwest. The Bing cherries that are sold in grocery stores are not grown in Michigan, but we do grow many other varieties of sweet cherry, like the Balaton.
In 1925, cherry growers worked in contingent with local merchants to launch the Blessing of the Blossoms Festival. The purpose of the festival was to bless the crops for a good harvest while promoting the cherry business and the region. A few years later, the festival was re-named the National Cherry Festival. Cherry Fest is kind of a big deal around here.
Cherry trivia aside, I like the cherry orchards for one reason: they are just so pretty when they blossom.