CHERRY HISTORY IN NORTHERN MICHIGAN
Many centuries ago European and Asian citizens enjoyed cherries. Cherries are believed to have come from China around 4,000 B.C., and are named after Cerasus, a town in Turkey. Michigan's cherry history isn't quite as long. It was 1852 when Peter Dougherty, a Presbyterian missionary, planted the first cherry orchard in the Grand Traverse Area. Local Indian farmers had grown other fruit trees in the area and had told Dougherty not to plant them. He ignored them and planted the first cherry orchard on the Old Mission Peninsula, located in Grand Traverse Bay. Much to everyone's surprise the cherry trees flourished and soon other orchards were planted all over Northern Michigan.
Cherry trees can grow just about anywhere. However, they need specific conditions to grow to their full potential and the Grand Traverse Region possesses them. The orchards are usually planted on rolling hills and sandy soil, because this condition is needed for water drainage and air flow. Lake Michigan also plays a part helping to calm the cold winter winds and keeping the orchards cool in the summer. These conditions made the Grand Traverse area excellent for growing cherries commercially.
The first commercial cherry orchard was Ridgewood Farm, planted near the site of Dougherty's original orchard. Planted in 1893, it helped start the cherry industry in the Grand Traverse Region. By the early 1900's the tart cherry industry's production had surpassed other crops produced in the area. The first cherry processing facility, Traverse City Canning Company, was built just south of Traverse City. Most of the processing facilities were located near the orchards. Soon cherries were being shipped to major midwestern cities, such as Detroit, and eventually all over the country.
Today Traverse City is known nationally as the "Cherry Capital of the World". The five counties around Traverse City make up the region that produces 40 percent of the annual tart cherry crop in the United States. Orchards line the Lake Michigan coast from Benton Harbor to the Grand Traverse Area.
Montmorency is the primary tart cherry grown in the United States today. It has been grown in this country for more than a century because it's perfect for pies, preserves, jellies, juices, and other products.
Today most of the tart cherries are harvested using a mechanical shaker, which looks like a upside down umbrella. In early days the cherries were picked by hand and even today sweets are picked that way.
Most of the cherries are processed right away, but you can still buy local sweet cherries in the summer months at a local supermarket or roadside stand. If you come to Northern Michigan during the summer, stop by a roadside stand and grab some fresh local cherries, you'll be glad you did.