4/1/12 • AF News
New farming option for fruit growers in NW Michigan
by Pearl Gray
by Pearl Gray
Traverse City, Michigan –– Early settlers in Michigan discovered that due to Lake Michigan’s moderating effect on temperatures along the western side of the state that conditions were excellent for the growing of fruit crops including cherries, apples, peaches and plums. The Grand Traverse Bay area proved to be exceptionally good due to the double peninsulas jutting out into the bay which gave the added benefit of water on both sides Through the years mostly driven by profitability, most growers ultimately specialized in cherries and Traverse City became known as the “Cherry Capitol of the World” with a week long festival to celebrate the annual harvest. A major affect of this specialization, however, has been an economy that is dependent on the success of the annual crop. A boom in good years can be offset by a late frost destroying a major part of the crop in a subsequent year.
This reporter recently interviewed Dr. F. G. Bascomb, at a producing cherry farm in Michigan's Leelanau County. He is a spokesperson for the Midwest Economic Futures Co-op (MEFCO) and had some exciting news for the fruit growers in this region. Dr. Bascomb announced that he and Mr. Duns Scotus the owner of a cherry farm here in Leelanau County, Michigan, along with several other growers from the region were recently invited to tour Michigan State University's fruit marketing research laboratory in East Lansing. The facility was established in 1994, to research and develop alternative crops to alleviate Western Michigan’s economic dependence on the cherry industry. Jointly funded by the Northwestern Economic Futures Association (NEFA) and the Cherryland Fruit Cooperative (CHEFCO), the labs have had some success in introducing new fruiting crops here Leelanau County including wine grapes and hops. Within the past ten years several vineyards and their companion wineries have been established and the area has developed a solid reputation for its excellent wines. In addition some growers have already began growing hops for use in the malted beverage industry.
Their latest endeavor though and the reason for our visit was to announce their latest breakthrough. In the summer of 1997 it occurred to Professor Sylvia Ajau, Chief Research Biotechnologist that since the olive is a species of Mediterranean evergreen, it might be possible to molecularly clone recombinant DNA from native evergreens into the Mediterranean fruiting olive genome and thereby produce a variety of fruiting olive that could withstand our northern climate. Three years later in early 2000 she and her laboratory assistants were rewarded with the first laboratory version of what they now refer to as the “Northern Olive”. Since then they have been hard at work to produce a sustainable and commercially viable Northern Olive. The final breakthrough came when they discovered that they could graft Northern Olive shoots onto the root stock of it’s cousin the hearty ornamental Russian Olive. Consequently, the announcement that the Northern Olive is now ready for “prime time playing”. Three growers who for the present time must remain anonymous have already established experimental groves and it is expected that within ten years Leelanau County, Michigan will have several producing olive groves.
Who knows, ten years from now your martini may be garnished with a home grown Michigan olive.