TRAVERSE CITY — National Cherry Festival frenzy is at its peak — rides at the Midway, high-stepping parades, music at the main stage, food and tournaments — everything's in full swing.
Interested festival-goers took time on Thursday to explore how the cherry put Traverse City on the map. The Cherry Connection exhibit at the Michigan State University Horticultural Research Station in Leelanau showcased cherry industry highlights by way of a guided orchard tour and exhibits.
“This is where the festival meets the farm,” Event Director for the Cherry Festival Steven Patmore said. He estimated that nearly 2,500 people would tour the orchard and interact with exhibits that featured the newest cherry products and industry technology. In addition to 20-minute orchard tours and hands-on exhibits, visitors were able to partake in a petting zoo, craft table, kids’ games, contests, and an area for sampling food and beauty products derived from cherries.
Nikki Rothwell, center coordinator with the research station, directed a tour from a wagon that was pulled by a tractor. She started the tour with a reminder that 50 percent of the nation’s cherries are locally grown.
“This is a big economic driver for our area,” she said. “We hope to give you a glimpse of our area and our industry.”
Rothwell also spoke of the area’s agricultural diversity, and shared information about blueberry, apple, grape, and hops harvests.
The primary role of the MSU University Extension is to be available to growers to help them learn about planting and new agricultural technologies. Cherry Connection tours and exhibits there serve as a reminder of how the region supports fruit production because of the cooler summer temperatures that come from being near the lake.
“The MSU Extension works with area growers to educate them in all areas of production, from grafting trees, pollinating, processing and pest management,” Duke Elsner, Small Fruit Educator at the MSU University Extension said. “You have to have cherries to have a Cherry Festival. There are lots of problems with the industry and our station helps growers improve in methods of production and pest management.”