TRAVERSE CITY — Festivals are fun, but cherries are big business year-round in northwest Michigan.
Farming, fruit processing, distribution of nutriceuticals, retail and drawing in tourists are examples of the economic impact cherries have throughout the region.
“Fifty percent of the nation’s supply of tart cherries is produced in northwest Michigan, which is significant,” said Cherry Marketing Institute President Phil Korson.
Excluding 2012's weather-related crop damage, the region produces an average 110-million pounds of tart cherries annually among 252 farms. The farms cover 17,900 acres in Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Benzie, Manistee, Antrim and Charlevoix counties, according to USDA statistics.
The farm value of cherry production statewide averages $46 million annually.
“It is also an industry that has reinvented itself to be relevant today…and has found its way into the national media,” Korson said, noting cherries have evolved from bakery ingredients into a health food and super fruit.
One example of an entrepreneur making a cherry-based business work is Michelle’s Miracle, founded by Michelle White of Leland in 2001. The business sells cherry concentrate as a dietary supplement to more than 2,000 groceries and retailers throughout the country, including such national chains as Whole Foods.
“We started selling one bottle at a time…and built out one store at a time,” White said, noting distributors wouldn’t initially carry her product unless stores were buying, but stores wouldn’t order unless distributors were carrying it.
She addressed the problem by doing store demonstrations and educating snowbirds about the health benefits, building a customer base hands on. Today, the business has sold more than 100,000 bottles of Michele’s Miracle, relying on local cherries for the concentrate and bottling and shipping through Cherry Growers in Traverse City.
Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce president Doug Luciani said at least 10 to 15 percent of the chamber’s 2,000 members are directly involved with cherries. Close to 75 percent are directly or indirectly impacted by the industry.