Traverse City Record-Eagle

Op-Ed Columns

July 10, 2014

Phil Power: Ah, those glorious cherries

We’ve survived the Fourth of July, and are now entering into cherry season, one of the great glories of summer in Michigan.

This is especially meaningful for me, because my family has a close connection with Michigan cherries.

Family legend has it my great-great grandfather, Eugene Power, was one of the first to plant cherries in northwest Michigan back in the late 19th century.

Fifteen or so years ago, my cousin Tom Power, a Grand Traverse County Circuit Judge, and I visited the old family farm near Elk Rapids, a town 15 or so miles north of Traverse City.

We talked briefly with a woman who then lived there, who said that yes, indeed, a family called “Power” had, indeed, once owned a cherry orchard there.

And out in the backyard was a very, very old cherry tree we thought might have been from that original orchard.

And I have a family photograph that shows my great-great grandfather in a white shirt and tie, dark suit and Panama hat standing in the middle of his orchard.

He’s looking proprietary, surveying his newly planted cherry trees, with a farmhand standing behind him with a pruning knife.

But what kind of cherries?

Almost certainly, he was planting Montmorency cherries, called “sours” to distinguish them from the dark red eating cherries, “sweets.” which also grow in the area.

They took off, relatively quickly, becoming the dominant crop in the region, and thriving on the sandy, well-drained soil.

They also benefited from the moderating influence of Lake Michigan, which kept temperatures depressed in the spring, thereby delaying the flowering of the trees until the danger of a killing frost had — mostly — passed.

My father, also named Eugene Power, grew up in Traverse City.

He told me that his father, Glenn, who started out as a surveyor, helped his grandfather lay out the cherry trees in long, straight lines. My father remembered his first job was out on the family farm, picking cherries at 10 cents a lug.

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