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.