Blue Skies & Blossoms in Michigan

Blue Skies, Blossoms & Bokeh, photo by Andrew McFarlane

Cherry blossoms, along with apple & other fruit tree blooms are out across Michigan. If you’re near a fruit growing region, take a drive and see what’s to be seen!

I definitely miss my Olympus dSLR. View the photo background bigilicious and see more in my Cherry Blossoms slideshow.

PS: Here’s a little Facebook Live video I did this week with Nikki Rothwell, head of MSU’s Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station about cherries, blossoms, and the work of the Station. I can’t seem to size the video here so you might want to click to view it on the Leelanau.com Facebook.

Cherry Time in Michigan

Ready to Pick

Ready to Pick, photo by Bruce

While much of the state is still waiting on cherries to ripen, the National Cherry Festival is heading into the final weekend for their 88th annual event. Their history page says (in part):

French colonists from Normandy brought pits that they planted along the Saint Lawrence River and on down into the Great Lakes area. Cherry trees were part of the gardens of French settlers as they established such cities as Detroit, Vincennes, and other midwestern settlements.

Modern day cherry production began in the mid-1800s. Peter Dougherty was a Presbyterian missionary living in northern Michigan. In 1852, he planted cherry trees on Old Mission Peninsula (near Traverse City, Michigan). Much to the surprise of the other farmers and Indians who lived in the area, Dougherty’s cherry trees flourished and soon other residents of the area planted trees. The area proved to be ideal for growing cherries because Lake Michigan tempers Arctic winds in winter and cools the orchards in summer.

The first commercial tart cherry orchards in Michigan were planted in 1893 on Ridgewood Farm near the site of Dougherty’s original plantings. By the early 1900s, the tart cherry industry was firmly established in the state with orchards not only in the Traverse City area, but all along Lake Michigan from Benton Harbor to Elk Rapids. Soon production surpassed other major crops. The first cherry processing facility, Traverse City Canning Company, was built just south of Traverse City, and the ruby-red fruit was soon shipped to Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee.

…The most famous sweet cherry variety is the Bing cherry; this cherry variety got its name from one of Lewelling’s Chinese workmen. Another sweet cherry variety is the Lambert, which also got its start on Lewelling Farms. The Rainier cherry, a light sweet variety, originated from the cross breeding of the Bing and Van varieties by Dr. Harold W. Fogle at the Washington State University Research Station in Prosser, Washington. The Bing, Lambert and Rainier varieties together account for more than 95 percent of the Northwest sweet cherry production.

Today, the U. S. cherry industry produces more than 650 million pounds of tart and sweet cherries each year. Much of the cherry production is concentrated in Michigan and the Northwest. Michigan grows about 75 percent of the tart cherry crop. Oregon and Washington harvest about 60 percent of the sweet cherry crop. Other states with commercial cherry crops are Utah, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania and California.

Read on for more, and if you want to read about how some cherry farmers think that Federal cherry policy is leaving dollars in the orchards, head over to this Bridge Magazine article on how USDA cherry policy impacts Michigan cherry farmers.

Bruce photographed these beauties last week at at Lemon Creek Winery near Baroda. View his pic background bigtacular and see more in his slideshow.

More cherries and more summer wallpaper on Michigan in Pictures!

Sorting cherries … and making sense of migrant labor in Michigan

Migrant girls working in cherry canning plant Berrien County, photo by John Vachon

February is National Cherry Month and back in the day (July of 1940 to be precise), the cherry sorting machine was any able body that could tell the difference between a good and bad cherry as they sped past.

Agriculture is a vital part of the northern Michigan economy, and the League of Women Voters in Leelanau County has released an interesting study on migrant worker visas. They study contends that although the care for and harvesting of crops is a critical, labor-intensive aspect of our agriculture, Michigan workers aren’t stepping up to fill seasonal agricultural jobs, risking closure or bankruptcy for farmers and processors. The study notes that it’s an issue that’s been with us for years:

Seasonal workers have been essential to the operation of area farms since the transition from subsistence farming in the early 20th century. Agriculture was the principal livelihood for Michigan residents throughout the 1800s, but by the turn of the century, the Industrial Revolution was transforming agriculture from a small, self-sufficient family art to a large, mechanized, scientific industry. The tractor, the telephone, and the automobile revolutionized cultivation, communication, and transportation, and rural isolation was broken. Although farm conditions improved, people left the farms in droves and resettled in the cities. Rural depopulation became so severe during the 1920s that many farmers and growers had to import migrant labor.

The need for migrant labor has ebbed and flowed over the years. World War II was the catalyst for the Bracero Program, which from 1942 to 1964 brought Mexican migrant agricultural workers to the US legally. The program increased Michigan’s reliance on Mexican farm workers for harvest, and when the program ended, many workers continued to work in US agriculture.

Some crops like cherries have become largely mechanized, but apples, wine grapes and many other crops still have to be harvested by hand. Check out Migrant workers and Michigan agriculture on Absolute Michigan for a lot more about a critical issue for our farms and farmers.

You can get this photo background bigilicious and click to view the Michigan cherries gallery at the Library of Congress and you can also have a look at UpNorth Memories cherries slideshow.

The article on photographer John Vachon from the LOC’s American Memory Project says that his first job for the Farm Security Administration held the title “assistant messenger.” Vachon was twenty-one and had no intention of becoming a photographer when he took the position in 1936, but as his responsibilities increased for maintaining the FSA photographic file, his interest in photography grew. A memoir by his son quotes Stryker as telling the file clerk, “When you do the filing, why don’t you look at the pictures.”

Good advice.