By LORAINE ANDERSON
TRAVERSE CITY — Sometimes it takes a party to counter a devastating loss, and that's exactly what the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center threw at the Park Place Dome last weekend to "Roast 2012."
Some 350 to 400 area farm families — growers, fruit processors, farmers and farm-related business owners — came to the free gathering that included everything from appetizers, beverages, a live band, current National Cherry Queen Meg Howard and former queen Angela Saylor.
The purpose? To lift spirits, help keep minds off the region's 90 percent tart cherry crop loss this season and look forward to a better year, said Nikki Rothwell, research station coordinator and district extension horticulture educator in Traverse City.
It also helped farmers, who practice an often solitary occupation, meet other farmers and socialize. And a silent auction raised $6,300 for the family of Jeremy Jelinek, a third-generation beekeeper and father of three who died in an Oct. 15 crash in Blair Township.
The party is the newest effort to come out of Cherry Republic owner Bob Sutherland's $20,000 gift in August to the research center's foundation to help launch its "Keep Farmer's Farming" campaign.
"All I can say was that it was one heck of a good time," said Phyllis Kilcherman, who with husband John has run an antique apple and fruit farm since 1955 near Northport. They also make cider and run a market at their farm.
"Farmers don't have time to go parties and socialize much," she said. "What made it fun was that everyone was in a good mood because we're all such hard workers."
The early warm spring temperatures followed by hard freezes also damaged about 50 percent of their apple crop.
"We did quite well, though, because they didn't have apples downstate and we did," she said.
Other programs and work funded by the donation include:
- An all-day workshop in September to prepare growers for disaster loan applications.
- A Sept. 25 meeting with Greenstone Farm Credit Service, which is administering disaster loans signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder in June.
- Drafting a crop insurance policy for growers, who currently cannot buy crop insurance.
n Bringing an out-of-state speaker on orchard finances to the Orchards and Vineyard Show on Jan. 21-22.
- Developing an alternative labor program in the event migrant farm workers don't come to northwest Michigan because of last year's crop loss.
About three years ago, the research station also started a Young Farmers Program for those under 40. Originally funded by USDA, the program will continue with a $138,000 USDA grant plus a $60,000 match from Rotary Charities.
Sutherland, who sits on the research station's crop loss advisory board, spoke at the party.
"I told them that the farmer's success is giving back to the soil and Cherry Republic's success is how much we give back to the farmers," he said. "This has been a tough year. One choice we can make every morning is how we deal with this natural disaster. Our attitude can be our best strength."