MSU with a Cherry on Top

July 15, 2016
Erin Lauwers in a grower's orchard. Photo courtesy of Erin Lauwers.

Erin Lauwers in a grower's orchard. Photo courtesy of Erin Lauwers.

One of the most iconic images of a Michigan summer is fresh cherries from northern Michigan. Whether it’s baking cherry pies with almost 250 tart cherries or dark cherry juice dribbling down children’s chins as they compete to spit cherry pits the farthest, the memories are sweet.

Michigan leads the world in the production of tart cherries, and Michigan State University plays a large role in the prominence of the cherry in the Great Lakes State. From agriculture to entertainment, students, faculty, staff and alumni are involved in the success of the cherry industry.

While many find pleasure in picking fresh Michigan fruit in the summer, some MSU students find themselves researching cherries in the laboratory. One MSU Student Horticulture Association member, senior Erin Lauwers from Capac, Mich., works as a summer technician at the Northwestern Michigan Horticulture Research Center south of Suttons Bay on the Leelanau Peninsula.

Lauwers and other students work on a variety of projects at the research center by doing data collection, collecting fruit samples from orchards, trapping insects, and much more.

One of the 35 projects that Lauwers and other Michigan State students are working on at the research center involves an invasive species of fruit fly called the Spotted Winged Dorsophila. She explained that this pest is a major problem for cherry growers because it is unlike other fruit fly species in the area.

“We do collection with hundreds of traps out in grower’s orchards to monitor this one pest,” said Lauwers. “Through that I’ve had to learn identification of the fly, lots of microscope work. I’m pretty good at it now—I’ve looked at hundreds.”

Cherry growers commission the Northwestern Michigan Horticulture Research Center to conduct research and take samples from their orchards.

“It’s really important for growers to know about the pests so they can try to manage and control the problem,” explained Lauwers. “The growers really depend on us and what we’re doing at the station.”

For students like Lauwers who are interested in working in research, opportunities to get experience working and researching in the field are crucial.

“I think research is important for students to do this because you learn a lot about how much goes into research: every decision that’s made or every new product that comes out,” Lauwers said.

Danielle Bott on the set of Good Morning America.

Danielle Bott on the set of Good Morning America.

Traverse City, Mich., annually celebrates the cherry and applauds Michigan’s cherry industry with the National Cherry Festival, held each year around the Fourth of July. Now in its 90th year, the festival features concerts, foot races, arts and crafts, parades and more. 

While applauding the work of those who toil in the cherry industry, the National Cherry Festival also has a proud tradition of crowning the National Cherry Queen. The 2015-2016 Cherry Queen, Danielle Bott, is an alumnus of MSU. A kinesiology major who grew up on a cherry farm in Buckley, Mich., Bott told the Traverse City Record-Eagle that seeing her parents “work as hard as they did gave me a real appreciation for farmers.”

“Growing crops isn’t easy,” Bott said when she was crowned in July 2015. “It takes a lot of dedication….”

The Cherry Festival started in 1910 when local Traverse City farmers held an informal “blessing of the blossoms” to ring in the cherry blossoms. In 1931, the festival became a national celebration and several U.S. presidents have attended the festivities throughout its history.

Bott said she was thrilled to become the Cherry Queen, a role that gave her a national stage on which to share her affection for Traverse City and her passion for cherries.

“I get to brag about the place I love and educate others about the industry I love.”

For more information about the Michigan cherry industry, visit the Northwestern Michigan Horticulture Research Center’s website.

Learn more about the National Cherry Festival at their website.

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