As a child growing up just south of Traverse City, I remember attending the Cherry Festival every year the second week in July. I suppose it was held then because that’s when cherries ripened in Traverse City. Then it was changed, I guess, to match the increase in tourist traffic here for the July 4th holiday. Unfortunately, that didn’t match the cherry season, since cherries still didn’t ripen until around the second week in July. Well, except last year, but that was such a freak occurrence that even we cherry farmers couldn’t believe it.
Now I see that the National Cherry Festival will begin in June this year. I’m pretty sure the cherries are still going to ripen around the second week in July.
As a fruit farmer, here’s my dilemma. We sell our fruit at a roadside stand and we welcome the tourist traffic. They come for the water, the nature, the beauty and, of course, the National Cherry Festival.
However, during the Cherry Festival, our customers come to our stand expecting to find the local cherries Traverse City is known for around the world. When the Cherry Festival is held as early as it will be this year, we have to turn away disappointed customers — there’s just no way for us to have local cherries at our stand two weeks before they are ripe. No way will I sell out-of-state cherries. And no way will I sell cherries that are not quite ripe. We, like other farmers and farm marketers in the area, take pride in our region, our farm and, most of all, our cherries. And our customers deserve only the best we have to offer.
So I have a couple of suggestions for the Cherry Festival planners. You could just have some additional special events for those who come here for Independence Day. That’s reason enough to celebrate, right? I mean, the weather’s great, there’s lots to do and surely, the U.S. deserves a big birthday party. Or perhaps it is just time to consider renaming the festival and leave cherries out of it. It’s a drastic move, yes, but if you’re celebrating the fact that Traverse City is the top cherry producing area in the world, shouldn’t there be Traverse City cherries for people to taste? At the very least, an educational marketing campaign about why there are no local cherries at the many farm stands and local grocery stores might be in order.