The Power of a Cherry

Door County, Wisconsin Door County, Wisconsin sits on a 110-kilometer long peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan. In the19th century, the peninsula’s trees were overharvested – clear-cut in some places, leaving a soil so thin few crops could survive.

Joseph Zettel, emigrated from Switzerland in 1856, and thought the soil would support fruit growing. He raised his first apples in 1862, eventually gaining recognition from the World Columbian Exposition for growing twenty varieties of apples. By 1896, the first cherry orchard had been planted on the peninsula.

It turned out the peninsula’s limestone soil and the climatic influences of Lake Michigan were ideal for tart cherries – the kind found in pie fillings. By 1959 the region was producing 4.5 million kilograms of tart cherries and had earned the name ‘ Cherryland USA’.

Tourism development has caused declines in agricultural production in recent decades, but there are still plenty of cherries. They attract tourists eager for cherry-laced cuisine and entrepreneurs like Carrie Lautenbach-Viste at Orchard Country Winery & Market are busy adding new products like cherry wine, grilling sauce and salsa, to satisfy consumer demand for cherries. It is proving successful. Her employee, Bill Gonnsen, explains the financial benefits, “Cherry growing is a very sustainable business. With only 100 acres we are able to employ 19 people part-time for six months and nine people full-time. That is more than a relatively small piece of land can support with other crops.”

Sustainable forestry would have been better a better historical choice, but I’m inspired that a simple cherry has reinvented the region.

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