2018-06-28 / Front Page

Bardenhagen named 2018 Cherry Person

Leland Township farmer
By Jen Murphy
of the Enterprise staff


CHERRY CHECK. Suttons Bay grower Jim Bardenhagen inspects the cherries growing on his farm. He will be recognized Tuesday as the Cherry Industry Person of the Year for his 41 years working in the cherry industry. 
Photo by Kelsey Pease CHERRY CHECK. Suttons Bay grower Jim Bardenhagen inspects the cherries growing on his farm. He will be recognized Tuesday as the Cherry Industry Person of the Year for his 41 years working in the cherry industry. Photo by Kelsey Pease If the cherry industry had a guardian angel, his name might be Jim. And, as someone who has worked over four decades to build a solid foundation for the industry, Suttons Bay grower Jim Bardenhagen received recognition for his hard work as he was named this week as the Cherry Industry Person of the Year by the National Cherry Festival.

What stands out to industry cohorts is Bardenhagen’s willingness to work hard on behalf of the cherry industry as well as his willingness to help other growers.

Another Jim - Jim Nugent, a fruit grower in Bingham Township and Industry Person of the Year winner in 2006 - knows this well. Nugent met Bardenhagen when he first came to Leelanau in the late 70s.


CHERRY GROWER Jim Bardenhagen and his wife, Jan Bardenhagen, are rooted at Bardenhagen Farms in Suttons Bay. Jim Bardenhagen was named this week as the Cherry Industry Person of the Year by the National Cherry Festival. 
Photo by Kelsey Pease CHERRY GROWER Jim Bardenhagen and his wife, Jan Bardenhagen, are rooted at Bardenhagen Farms in Suttons Bay. Jim Bardenhagen was named this week as the Cherry Industry Person of the Year by the National Cherry Festival. Photo by Kelsey Pease “Throughout his career, Jim always had a passion for helping the farmers,” Nugent said.

Nugent noted Bardenhagen’s acknowledged expertise in labor management, marketing issues and horticultural issues.

“He has always had a passion for helping people. He’s the kind of guy I’d call at 6:30 in the evening because he’d still be in the office. He has a remarkable work ethic,” Nugent said. “He has done so much with such passion and works tirelessly to help the industry.

“He’s just an all-around good person. I was so pleased when I heard he was getting that recognition. It’s a great selection on the part of the Cherry Festival.”

Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Station center coordinator Nikki Rothwell couldn’t agree more. When Rothwell first started working at the research station, Bardenhagen was an extension agent in Leelanau County.

“I’m really excited Jim is getting this recognition,” she said. “He was a model extension agent - worked hard, answered questions and if he didn’t know the answer he worked to find out. He was a great role model for me.

“He worked on things that were not as glamorous, but they were complementary to the work we were doing,” she said. “Things like worker protection, worker safety and crop insurance.”

Some of that out-of-the-spotlight work has continued. Bardenhagen has been re-appointed for a second term on the Federal Crop Insurance Board as a representative of specialty crops.

Rothwell is also appreciative of the Bardenhagen’s help today.

“Jim is really wonderful. And even after his retirement (from the extension), we have IPM - Integrated Pest Management - update meetings at his farm. He still acts as an extension agent. He’s a great facilitator. When everybody leaves that meeting, he makes sure everyone understands the major points.

“And his wife, Jan, is a total sweetheart,” Rothwell added. “Every week, she makes at least two kinds of cookies for those guys.”

Another gift Bardenhagen brings to the cherry industry is the ability to see solutions where others might see problems.

Problems like tariffs.

“We happen to be in a bit of a tough time in the cherry industry with competition with other countries like Turkey,” Bardenhagen said. “But we are trying to market as much as we can, and the industry is working with the administration trying to correct the problem with Turkey and tariffs - we have 58 percent tariffs if we go their way. It’s going to take a little while, but that’s something to get solved.”

But it’s not impossible. In fact, Bardenhagen sees a way forward for domestic tart cherries with more work by the industry - and time.

“It’s a great product with a lot of great health benefits. It’s going to take some energy and some action and probably some money to solve this,” he said.

He believes the tariff issue will be solved sooner rather than later. “It won’t take years and years - maybe a year or two,” he said.

Despite his accomplishments and contributions, Bardenhagen is known as being down-to-earth and humble.

When asked what he thought about receiving the honor, he said he was one of many.

“A lot of great people have been selected ahead of me and it’s my turn, I guess,” he said.

“The world loves cherries, and we love to grow them,” Bardenhagen said. “It’s quite an honor and hopefully we can help keep the cherry industry upbeat.”

Jim and Jan Bardenhagen will participate together in opening ceremonies and events next Wednesday, July 4, at the research station.

“That’s the day of the announcement and program, the introduction of the queen’s court. It’s usually when growers attend,” Jim Bardenhagen said.

And how is Bardenhagen preparing for these events?

“I have to learn how to do a good wave,” he said.

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