Are tart cherries in trouble? A new MLive documentary about Michigan’s most famous fruit


“It’s hard to see the blossoms and the potential, and then have it dashed.”

Cherry farmer Cheryl Kobernik says the 2022 tart cherry harvest season sent her and her husband through the stages of grief. The Koberniks own North Star Organics, a small 40-acre cherry farm in Frankfort, Michigan.

She’s one of several cherry growers MLive visited this season to examine an industry that is synonymous with Michigan, but has gotten a lot of press for its volatility in recent years.

The result is our latest short documentary: “Rotten times for tart cherries: Is Michigan’s most famous crop in Jeopardy?”

The Koberniks ran into a problem a lot of Michigan tart cherry growers faced in 2022 -- they couldn’t find anyone to process their cherries in what turned out to be a bumper crop harvest year.

Tart cherry processing

Tart cherries being processed into pie filling at Great Lakes Packing Co. in Kewadin, Michigan on July 28, 2022.

Unlike sweet cherries, which stay fresh for a week or more after they’re harvested, tart cherries need to be processed -- pitted and usually frozen or turned into juice or pie filling -- within about a day of harvest.

Michigan fruit processors have faced supply chain issues, labor shortages and many have shut down over the last few years, when the tart cherry crop was much smaller.

But having nowhere to process their crop is far from the only problem tart cherry growers have faced in recent years.

Climate change has damaged the crop, bringing soaking rain, devastating hail, warm winters and late season frosts.

A federal marketing order designed to stabilize tart cherry prices has caused some farmers to leave thousands of pounds of cherries to rot on the ground in certain years. There’s also competition from imports, and a shortage of farm workers.

North Star Organics cherry farm

The sign at North Star Organics in Frankfort, Michigan at the end of harvest season on July 27, 2022

Through it all, Cheryl Kobernik says they’re not ready to give up on cherry farming.

“It’s almost like, it’s encouraged us to say, no, we got this. We have come this far through blood sweat and tears, literally. We’re going to make this farm rock.”

For more, please watch our documentary.

Click here to watch all of MLive’s award-winning documentaries.

Lori Chapman is senior producer on MLive’s video team.

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