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Meet Our Cherry Farmers

Posted by Mary W on 30th Oct 2020

When Bob Sutherland founded Cherry Republic in 1989, his mission was to create a company that celebrated both Michigan cherries and the hardworking men and women who plant the trees, prune the branches, harvest the fruit, and spend sleepless nights worrying about pests and weather. Meet Sarah, Nels, and Nikki -- three great examples of why we love the cherry industry. 

SARAH HALLSTEDT

Sarah Hallstedt

Returning to Michigan after raising their family in Indianapolis, Sarah Hallstedt and her husband, Phil, purchased their 53-acre cherry farm in Northport, MI, in 2006 to pursue their dream of fruit farming. Relying on used equipment bought at auction and the kind advice of local growers and researchers at MSU like Nikki Rothwell, the Hallstedts slowly transformed 22 acres of decrepit old tart cherry trees into fertile ground ready for the planting of 9,500 sweet cherry trees in 2010-2012.

Along the way, Sarah, Phil, and their children put in countless hours and "buckets of sweat" as they readied the land for their dream farm. They describe the working weekends they spent over several summers as they traveled from their then-home in Indiana to Leelanau County — an 816-mile weekend commute.

"After the trees were pulled, pushed into piles and burned, our family trips up to Michigan became 'rock and roll vacations,'" Sarah remembers. "Affectionately dreaded by the kids, the 'rock' part of the trip began in the morning as we woke up, headed over to the orchard from Phil's parents’ home six miles away, and proceeded to walk shoulder-to-shoulder picking up rocks and leftover tree roots. 'Roll' came in the afternoon as we swam and sailed on local lakes."

Today their idyllic orchard is thriving, and they expect to handpick 100,000 pounds of sweet cherries this coming harvest. They offer eight types of premium sweet cherries starting in early July for u-pick, pre-pick, and direct ship from their trees right to your door! These modern varieties are larger and more flavorful than traditional varieties, and their short trees are more accessible and easier to pick. Perfect for their popular u-pick business.

Families can also sign-up for intimate one-hour education and u-pick tours in July and August if they want to learn more about the journey from corporate jobs to cherry orchardists and things like pollination habitats, high-density plantings, irrigation, integrated pest management, good agricultural practices, and the global trade of processed and fresh fruit.

On a side note, some Cherry Republic 'citizens' may remember, the Hallstedts provided fresh sweet cherries last summer to customers at our flagship store in Glen Arbor. We look forward to future collaborations (sweet cherry jam, anyone?) with this spirited, forward-thinking, and hard-working family. Stay tuned!

"We want to provide an orchard where others can create strong memories of sharing a bowl of cherries on a summer evening, track the progress of the orchard over a season, or even stop by and pick a handful of this amazing fruit right from the tree."

- Sarah Hallstedt

NELS VELIQUETTE

Nels Veliquette

Nels Veliquette is a second generation cherry farmer, the C.F.O. of Cherry Ke and Cherries R Us, and for the last decade, a vital partner of Cherry Republic. The Veliquette family owns and leases thousands of acres of cherry orchards in Northern Michigan. They are fully integrated farmers, meaning they pick, pit and store all of the cherries they grow.

Cherry growers throughout the United States have had the added burden of trying to compete with the unfair practice of cherry dumping from Turkey. Nels, along with many other local cherry farmers, traveled to Washington, D.C. this past December to make their final case for U.S. imposed tariffs on Turkish cherry products. On January 15, The International Trade Commission decided to reverse its earlier implementation of preliminary tariffs on dried tart cherries from Turkey. Nels was quoted in the Detroit News as saying this ruling "represents a body blow to an industry that was already struggling in the commodities cycle." While this is indeed a hard knock, we are hopeful that the federal government will review this decision in view of the facts.

Nels is a partner and a dear friend of ours here at Cherry Republic. He, along with other talented local leaders, are looking at innovative ways to support a strong industry for years to come, which includes focusing on affordable migrant housing and testing new cherry varieties to improve yields and return. As we celebrate National Cherry Farmer Month throughout February and move forward in this new decade, we invite you to join us in supporting local cherry farmers, such as Nels, by voting for Michigan cherries! Help elect those senators, state representatives and local officials who are fighting for our farmers and protecting our markets from a glut of foreign fruit. You can also vote for cherries by looking at labels and choosing cherries grown in the USA -- especially Michigan cherries.

"Even if the government won't help protect our markets, rest assured we will defend the Cherry Republic until the very end."

- Nels Veliquette

DR. NIKKI ROTHWELL

Nikki_Rothwell

Dr. Nikki Rothwell's name and reputation are well known among Michigan fruit farmers and, frankly, to anyone who likes to stay abreast of the health of our area's cherry crop. For the past 15+ years, Nikki has been the face of the Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Center (NWMHRC) as the District's Integrated Pest Management Agent for Fruit. In 2010 she was named NWMHRC Coordinator and District Extension Horticulture Educator — splitting her responsibilities between the Michigan Agricultural Research Station and Michigan State University Extension.

In the face of serious pest issues such as the Spotted Wing Drosophila, Nikki's independent and collaborative research has been vital as we look for ways to battle such deadly fruit intruders.

And as an educator, she not only provides leadership in developing and implementing MSU Extension's educational programs, she also assists farmers in their individual production and marketing efforts. This assistance is especially appreciated as the cherry industry faces increasing economic battles related to unfair trade practices.

"I am so fortunate to work with such terrific growers," Nikki says. "We are facing some tough economic times, but the growers are resilient, innovative, and care deeply about the fruit that they grow. The industry may look a bit different as we move forward into the future, but this region will keep the title of the Cherry Capital of the World, and our growers will continue to produce some of the best cherries anywhere."

As we at Cherry Republic celebrate National Cherry Farmer Month this February, we salute those like Nikki who have dedicated their careers to ensuring our cherry growers have the knowledge and tools they need to survive and — hopefully — thrive.

"The cherry industry is integral to our our region, from our growers to processors and the entire support system in between. This group of people helps define and put the Grand Traverse area on the map. What a nice thing for us to be known for — cherries!"

- Dr. Nikki Rothwell