Question: What do cherries have to do with the Year 2000?Leelanau 2000 Project Director Laura Quackenbush has seen several interesting ideas sparked by Leelanau 2000 presentations to various Leelanau County groups. However, none has the far-reaching potential of Suttons Bay Rotary's Cherry Initiative. "This project represents all that the founders of Leelanau 2000 envisioned. We hoped that individuals and groups dedicated to the future well-being of the County and its residents would use some creative thinking and the talented human resources with which Leelanau abounds to empower themselves and seek solutions to the critical issues with which we are faced, and Rotary has done just that."
Rotary member Dick Brant recalls how the Cherry Initiative began: "(Leelanau 2000 board member) Dave Barrons gave our Rotary Club the challenge to 'Do something really big'. He gave the example of planting 2000 trees as a living monument. On my drive back from the meeting I was looking at the hills with all those beautiful cherry trees, and thinking 'What would it take to plant more cherry trees..?"
Co-founder Gil Bogely says that the vision of the Cherry Initiative is simple: "We want to preserve the rural character of Leelanau County. The best way to do that is keep the orchards we have, and then find a good reason to plant more... and the best way to do that is to sell more cherries at a price that will bring a profit to growers."
In their effort to increase sales of cherries, Rotary's Initiative is covering all the bases. They are working closely with the Lansing-based Cherry Marketing Institute and have developed a brand name and marketing plan for dried cherries which they will be rolling out soon. The branding is important as Brant explains: "A raisin is a dried grape. The people in California had the foresight to call it a raisin. With a brand name, marketing, and advertising on a national basis, dried cherries will have the visibility and shelf space to handle the demand."
Unlike raisins however, cherries present a particular challenge: the pit. In order to be used in such products as breakfast cereals, cherries have to be pitless. When the Initiative was announced, a cherry pitting machine that was developed in conjunction with Michigan State University and formerly used at Frigid Foods in Suttons Bay was donated to the club. Rotary member Doug Glover, who is an engineer, and a local business began work with the machine to improve its speed and efficiency. Recently a second machine was donated by the original MSU developer, a Rotarian from downstate, who had heard about the project. This machine is in showroom condition and was donated to the Suttons Bay Rotary Club with all the drawings and development rights.
Another means to increase sales of cherries would be to establish and publish the health benefits of the cherry. The club is working with Lake Leelanau physician Dr.Joe Stafford, a Suttons Bay Rotary Club member, to study the substantial anecdotal evidence that cherries are a powerful anti-oxidant containing 17 compounds that MSU says could benefit health.
All this may seem like a lot of work, and it is. The motto of Rotary International is "Service Above Self" and Brant emphasizes that Suttons Bay Rotary has no commercial stake in their Cherry Initiative.
Of Suttons Bay Rotary and their Cherry Initiative, Dave Barrons says: "I'm amazed at their energy. They say they got it from Laura and me. I credit their energy to their business experience, their knowledge of how to get things done... and their vision."
That vision is one that could have an impact on the area and its farmers long beyond the year 2000. The club has projected that if dried cherries could capture 1/10th of the raisin market, it would require the planting of one million new trees in addition to using all of the cherries currently produced.
One million cherry trees. Now there's a fitting monument for Leelanau County.
If you would like to learn more about the Cherry Initiative or offer support, please contact them c/o BAI at 1-800-970-8828 or visit their web site at: www.leelanau.com/cherries/. For more about the Leelanau 2000 Initiative, visit their web site at: www.leelanau.com/2000/.