Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 27, 2013

Local sweet cherries to arrive late for festival

By BRIAN McGILLIVARY bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The National Cherry Festival will open Saturday with Michigan sweet cherries on hand, but local fruit may be harder to find.

Growers in the Grand Haven area of southwest Michigan will begin harvesting cherries this week for the Cherry Festival, but the major local crop harvest is still 10 days to two weeks out. This year’s early start to the festival won’t help, but area growers termed irrelevant the annual questions they field about whether cherries will be ready for the festival.

“To me, it’s not an issue if there are local cherries. It is an issue that we have cherries from the United States,” said cherry farmer Nita Send, of Suttons Bay. “It is the National Cherry Festival.”

Send chairs the festival’s cherry promotion committee and said she bristles at the question because it takes away from the important aspects of the festival and its celebration and promotion of the cherry industry.

“The fact is, it is scientifically impossible to schedule the festival so we have local cherries,” Send said. “It is impossible to predict the harvest unless you wait until the trees bloom in May, and you can’t schedule a national festival in May.”

Old Mission Peninsula farmer Bern Kroupa said sweet cherries set aside for retail sales account for a very small percentage of the area’s cherry crop. Michigan is the leader in tart cherries, used for pies and sauces, drying and other processing. Most area sweet cherries also are grown for freezing and processing, not retail sales.

But Kroupa expects area growers with their own farm stands to have some festival-available local early varieties of sweet cherries, even if visitors have to hand-pick them from the trees.

Old Mission Peninsula-based Edmondson Orchards expects to open its u-pick cherry operation next week.

Acme farmer Dennis Hoxsie said he likely won’t have anything available to supply the Cherry Festival. Hoxsie does have some cherries he grows in tunnels of special coverings, but not enough to supply the festival.

“Those are going to be ready, but it’s just a very small amount,” Hoxsie said. “When the festival is scheduled a week early ... there’s no way we were going to be ready for the festival this year.”

The June 29 start to this year’s Cherry Festival will be one of its earliest, but by only by a couple days, said festival executive director Trevor Tkach. The festival was moved at Traverse City official’ request to incorporate the July 4 holiday. Tkach said he thinks the festival may begin to serve some local sweet cherries by the middle or the end of its run, but said he’s glad Michigan cherries will be available.

“It’s a much better story to tell this year than last year when we had no cherries,” Tkach said.

A winter storm that damaged trees, followed by an early bloom and then late freezes killed most of the buds, and disease wiped out most of the rest of the 2012 cherry crop.

Growers expect a full crop this year in sweet cherries, but tart cherries didn’t weather the cold spring as well.

“It was a huge bloom, just ugly weather and the buds just didn’t set,” Kroupa said. “The tarts are going to be about half a normal crop.”