LANSING – There’s no doubt: Michigan is sweet on its cherries.
The state produces millions of pounds every harvest. Thousands of tourists flock to Traverse City for the annual National Cherry Festival, which will celebrate its 80th anniversary in July.
And research at Michigan State University says cherries reduce pain caused by arthritis
Now, if a pending bill passes, the cherry will become the state fruit, joining the illustrious ranks of the red-breasted robin and the Petoskey stone as official symbols of Michigan.
Rep. Paula Zelenko, D-Burton, introduced the House version of the bill at the request of a 10-year-old fourth grader at Hill Elementary School in Davison.
“She believed that since a lot of other states have state fruits, and our state is the number-one producer of cherries, it would make sense for it to be our state fruit,” Zalenko said.
The Senate version is sponsored by Sens. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi; Michelle McManus, R-Lake Leelanau; Jason Allen, R-Traverse City and Valde Garcia, R-Howell.
House sponsors include Howard Walker, R-Travese City; Barb Vander Veen, R-Allendale; Tom Meyer, D-Bad Axe; Fred Miller, D-Mt. Clemens and Marsha Cheeks, D-Detroit.
Michigan produces roughly three-quarters of all the tart cherries in the United States – about 154 million pounds in 2003, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Tart cherries are usually found in pies and preserves.
The state also produces about 20 percent of the nation’s sweet cherries – 26 million pounds worth in 2003. The cherry atop an ice-cream sundae is probably from a sweet variety.
The proposal also illustrates how legislation may come to fruition, Zalenko said.
“It was a way to show children that many pieces of legislation come from constituents, no matter what their age range,” she said.
It’s always nice to showcase Michigan products, said Agriculture Director Mitch Irwin, though he cautioned that he personally doesn’t play favorites with produce.
“I have so many favorite fruits,” he said. “When I feel a loss of connection to any fruit, you'll see me eat it.”
There are currently no proposals to promote any rival fruit, such as apples, peaches or blueberries, to statewide honor.
Apples, for example, represent roughly 60 percent of Michigan’s total fruit and nut production at around 760 million pounds in 2004, according to the Michigan Apple Committee. And the apple blossom is Michigan’s state flower.
Michigan’s various fruits also play their own role in tourism promotion.
Romeo hosts its annual Peach Festival on Labor Day weekend. In late September each year, Charlotte and Niles celebrate Michigan’s apple crop.
What's nice about Michigan, Irwin said, is that its geography allows many kinds of crops to grow successfully.
“We have such a tremendous diversity of fruit and vegetables,” Irwin said. “So go get some fruit, and enjoy the fruits of our labor.”