2017-07-13 / Front Page

Sweet times

Local, delicious cherries hit fruit stands
By Hannah Lentz
Enterprise intern

Leelanau County’s crop of sweet cherries is coming off trees and onto grocery shelves.

Nikki Rothwell, coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center, said sweets, which are usually available some time around the Fourth of July, are right on time.

“A lot of growers have started shaking,” Rothwell said. “I was out biking this past weekend and I saw some cherries on the side of the road, and I saw some trucks ... It’s started — we’re moving.”

The crop looks good this year, she said, and growers are eager to get sweets off trees because tarts are ripening quickly right behind them.

The sweet cherry crop is a little bit lighter this year than in years past, but growers are getting good prices for them, Rothwell said.

“So I think there are some growers out there who wish they had a few more,” she said.

Maria Lammers, general manager at Gallagher Farm Market in Traverse City, grew up on her family’s cherry farm. She is excited when she can start carrying Leelanau-grown cherries in the store.

“People are ready for cherries when we open until we close,” Lammers said. “They’re always looking for fresh, local cherries.”

Right now, Gallaghers is getting sweet cherries from three farms in Williamsburg. Once the sweet cherry harvest moves into full swing in Leelanau County, Lammers will make sure the market concentrates on cherries grown in the county.

“We really try to stay local once cherries are in season,” Lammers said. “We’re ready for them.”

Centerville Township cherry grower Ben LaCross picked a bagful of sweet cherries last week for his family to enjoy - the first of the season.

“I actually picked a bag today to take home to my wife and kids,” LaCross said. “But we’ll give them another week, and then they will be really ripe and tasty.”

Farmers, as usual, were dealing with challenges associated with the cherry harvest.

“They’re looking pretty good, with a little bit smaller crop because of the freeze and all the rain,” LaCross said.

He said growers also were contending with some cracked cherries and rot, again caused by the rain.

Steve Christensen, who grows cherries in Suttons Bay Township, also experienced problems with heavy rains.

“The extra water has been particularly bothersome,” he said. “The rain washes off all the spray and then you have to go back and spray again.”

Spraying for pests multiple times can be extremely expensive, Christensen said.

“Everything from the time to pay workers to the price of chemicals to the fuel for the sprayer adds a lot of costs,” he said.

The presence of spotted wing drosophilia, an imported bug that has quickly gained the full attention of growers, has required more spraying. The bug lays eggs in sweet cherries, making the fruits unusable.

“We haven’t seen a ton of problems but it’s something we have to look out for and spray for,” Christensen said. “It’s been very bothersome for growers to have to keep spraying for these things and then having the rain wash it off again.”

Nevertheless, Christensen plans to start harvesting Monday. He is also expecting a lighter crop than last year, but said his cherries are looking above average.

Kaleb Grant, a Suttons Bay senior, started working a seven-day-a-week stint shaking sweets on Monday.

“Last week, I had 60 (hours),” Grant said. “It’s long hours, but good hours.”

Grant, who works for Send & Emeott in Centerville Township, said the sweets taste good.

He guesses that tarts will be ready in another week or so.

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