In 2006, the Hallstedt family bought 53 acres of property in Northern Michigan, 400 miles away from their home in Indianapolis. Most of the land consisted of decrepit cherry trees; a lot of work had to be done before the property would produce anything more than burnt s’mores. As we were taking in the view and envisioning a revitalized functioning orchard, the kids blissfully ran through the cherry rows with no concept of the work to come.
Like a backyard garden, the existing orchard had to be pulled and the soil prepared for new plantings. After the trees were pulled, pushed into piles and burned, our family trips up to Michigan became “rock and roll vacations”. 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 house six miles away, and proceeded to walk row by row picking up rocks and leftover tree roots. “Roll” came in the afternoon as we swam and sailed on local lakes.
After the initial rock clearing effort, the soil was disced and leveled with used implements purchased on local farm auctions. We then planted cover crops from Essex mustard to winter rye to towering grasses, each of these sacrificial cover crops were in turn tilled under to enrich the soil for the orchard to come. During this process, Phil enlisted the help of local growers who became mentors, researchers at the Michigan State University, professionals in pest management and local residents to assist in the know-how and the labor. After four years our little piece of heaven was finally ready to become a sweet cherry orchard complete with a small pole barn to safely store the equipment and supplies.
Then Came the Trees
The first shipment of 1,750 cherry trees arrived in 2010 as five foot sticks with roots coming out of one end. Next came a well, electricity, irrigation piping, deer fences, bug control, weeding, mowing, white paint on the trunks to prevent winter sunburn, and the constant pruning of rebellious trees. Two more springtime shipments of trees followed, bringing our total to approximately 9,800 cherry trees planted over 23 acres.
The initial business plan focused on growing sweet cherries for wholesale distribution to grocery stores across the state of Michigan, but things did not work out as planned. Our quality of cherries was always high, but we could not meet our volume targets. In addition, the price of cherries stagnated due to trade disputes with Asia and labor costs went up if you could find the labor to hand pick the cherries. Thus in 2020, we reduced the size of the orchard to focus on U-pick customers and direct ship from the farm to families across the United States. We are now replanting with additional varieties and broadening our U-pick offerings to include flowers, raspberries and more to come.
The vision for the orchard was refined over time. We want a place where families can participate with the growth and harvest of this uniquely tasty, nutritious and beautiful fruit. Cherries only thrive in very specific climate conditions near the 45th parallel and unlike apples, the delicate fruit are impossible to store. Fresh sweet cherries are thus available only during the summer season. The cherry harvest is as anticipated and temporal in Northern Michigan as is a lakeside summer vacation with family and friends. 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.