Every July since 1926, Traverse City, Mich., has hosted a national cherry festival. The event attracts tourists to the city, which in turn calls itself “The Cherry Capital of the World,” an epithet that might seem hyperbolic if Michigan didn’t grow nearly 75 percent of the nation’s tart cherries. Also known as sour or "pie cherries," tart cherries are bright red fruit that are traditionally frozen and processed. Most sweet cherries, on the other hand, are eaten fresh and grown in Western states.
This year it’s looking unlikely that the Cherry Festival will feature any Michigan cherries. Two 80-degree weeks in March caused blossoms to bud early, before the Midwestern winter returned with its standard frosty, below-freezing temperatures. Though many growers are still a few weeks from knowing the full extent of the weather damage, they’re looking at what could be a total loss.
Michigan’s $17 billion tourism industry will find ways around the worst of this weather-induced crisis. The National Cherry Festival’s organizers have already made plans to order the fruit from Yakima, Wash., and Cherry Republic, a Michigan-based store offering products based around cherries, went all the way to Poland to build this year’s inventory. But for growers and farmworkers who depend on summer orchard crops, a year like this means a lot more than a change in sales strategy -- it’s a huge loss of income.