This post is sponsored by Montmorency Tart Cherries. All thoughts and opinions are our own.
You always know cherry season has started here in Northern Michigan on the Lower west coast by two things. First, is the number of tractors going down the roads. But the biggest telltale signs are the spilled cherries all over the ground at the turns and curves of the country roads. From bright red to the dark maroon and to the yellow and pink. All the colors cover the road and they also fill the markets here in Northern Michigan. Cherries are a true way of life for us due to the abundance of cherry growers in the area. Knowing and growing up with many friends whose families are farmers of these precious fruits that give Traverse City the claim of being the “Cherry Capital of the World”, I know just how important it is for these fruits to be understood and how much impact they make on our local economy as most of the industry here in Northern Michigan centers around farming and tourism and the cherries are at the core of that intersection.
We forget so often how there are families, people, culture, hard days of work, and more at the heart of the foods that show up on shelves from a Costco in California to the local market I attend every week in the heat of the summer. The more and more I have toured farms and met farmers I have learned to not just value my food, but also become highly aware of all the tiny little things that are done throughout the year to ensure a healthy harvest. So, when Montmorency Tart Cherries asked us to head into an orchard not far from where I am from just north of Traverse City, I jumped at the chance. I had never actually toured and seen the harvest of tart cherries up close. You see it from the road and hear the shaking on harvest days, but to walk right next to the shakers, watch them work, and see the complete process is amazing. Every type of vegetable and fruit we consume daily and see in grocery stores has a unique process of harvesting and even within varieties there are various ways a harvest is handled. So to learn about Montmorency tart cherries was absolutely amazing.
Before we get into the harvest process and the importance of these tart cherries, let’s clarify that Montmorency tart cherries are a unique variety of cherries on their own. Montmorency is the varietal of tart cherry most commonly grown in the U.S. on small family farms. You’ll see some other tart or sour cherries that are imported into this country. They’re shipped in containers and may travel half-way around the world. But if you see Montmorency on the label, you’ll know those tart cherries are grown on family-owned American farms, such as King Orchards, which is where we had the chance to visit. It is really important to look for the Montmorency name when purchasing the cherries because these are a special homegrown superfruit. Scientific research has examined the impact of Montmorency tart cherries on exercise recovery, heart health, sleep and inflammation. The crazy thing is since they are only grown in the US and 75% of which are grown in Michigan, you are helping to sustain local agriculture and family-run farms within the U.S. by purchasing them as well.
Compared to the fresh sweet cherries you may see in your local markets during the summer, Montmorency tart cherries are really delicate fruit and are rarely sold fresh outside of Michigan or other tart-cherry growing states. They’re typically processed within 24 hours of harvest, and sold as frozen, dried, canned and juice or juice concentrate. This makes sure that whether you have the concentrate (I love this for adding to sparkling water), juice, or other forms, you are getting the highest and most condensed nutrients available to you just as if you were to pick them from the orchard itself. Because they come in all of these forms, Montmorency tart cherries are always in season.
As precious as these fruits are you can imagine how meticulous the process of harvesting can be. We headed to King Orchards just outside of Charlevoix, and Juliette and Jack (brother and sister) took us on an orchard tour. They took us through the u-pick orchard and the sweet cherry orchard and then they took us over the Montmorency tart cherry orchard where they were harvesting. With over 100 acres they will harvest thousands of pounds of Montmorency tart cherries that will be enjoyed all year long. Their farm was begun by their father and mother and it has become a full family operation that now extends to the many workers who help during all their harvests. A truly family run business in many ways there is a warmth that surrounds the experience of being at the orchard, that I know resonates into how they grow their fruit and the products they produce.
When we headed toward the shakers that are used to remove the cherries from the trees we saw how the whole process works where two tractors roll to either side of a tree and shake the tree so the cherries fall into the tarps and then get moved into the bins while workers work to remove as many leaves as possible for processing. As the bins fill, the bins are left and taken and replaced for filling in a tight performance. The tractors move the bins on to trucks and the trucks cart them away not far away for processing immediately. It is a fast and never ending process of long days for farmers in Mid-July to Mid-August. The days may be long but the reward is sweet and the farm market at King Orchard is evidence of that.
Before leaving the farm that day we met with Juliette’s parents, John and Betsy King, who started the farm and they pitted cherries and showed us how it works in an automated machine. It was amazing to see the process even on a small scale.
Walking away from the farm that day, I had a new appreciation for what it takes to grow these superfruits and more than ever understood why it is extremely important to enjoy the tart cherries we have right here around us. I am now extremely aware that I am buying Montmorency tart cherries is important when purchasing the concentrate and dried cherries for our home. A simple awareness and understanding of where something comes from and that it can impact the lives of people such as the King family and all who work on their farm in our community makes it ever more important to me even beyond the obvious health benefits.
So tell me, have you ever had Montmorency tart cherries? Did you know that so many of them are grown in Michigan even if you are buying them on the other side of the country? Even better, have you ever seen a cherry tree shaken?! I am kind of mesmerized by it.
This post was sponsored by Montmorency Tart Cherries. All thoughts and opinions are our own.