As I have often written, and often said, "every year is different," but I cannot remember any season like this one. This season is going be one for the record books.
I thought having apple bloom open on April 21 was historic, and indeed it was, but that was just the beginning. Strawberries were almost three weeks ahead of "normal" and sweet cherries were being harvested in volume by June 20. We had peaches on the Market in June! Now, we've seen the blueberry variety "Elliot" on the market for almost ten days! It's usually a late August variety, and the last commercial cultivar picked in Michigan. Not this year. It's doubtful we'll even have fresh blueberries by late August!
Still, we're seeing volume increases and I'm thankful for that. And the quality is getting better and better with every dry day. We've had enough rain, and now we need it to stay dry. Moreover, if I had my druthers, we could be a little cooler too. But I'd settle for dry, trust me. Nothing takes the flavor out of fruit faster than a downpour.
Some superb peaches are coming across the Market every day now. Big, red, and sweet. Juicy to the point where one must bend over when taking a bite. I'm talking heavy duty napkin peaches.
There's still jersey blueberries on the market and occasionally, a late pick of bluecrop, but if you want the real sweeties, you need to act fast because elliots are more tart than the former two, and they'll be the primary variety of blueberry before we know it.
Blackberry volume has exploded, and today, we had more blackberries on the Market than the rest of the season combined. Wholesale prices held firm at 34-37 dollars for a 12-pint flat. The variety was "chester."
Plums are prolific with the better varieties coming on now. Redheart, Ozark premier, and Santa Rosa. There's still a few Methley, Early Golden, and of course, Shiro.
A nice load of apricots came on the Market from Traverse City this morning and sold out in less than an hour. The grower said he'd be back again tomorrow (Wednesday the 4th) and Friday. He also brought some nice nectarines and they too sold briskly.
And that reminded me of just what we have down here in the Southwest corner of our state: A great fruit Market! I've often been told by growers coming down from the North and from the Grand Rapids area how they wish they had something like this Market in their neck of the woods. And that's the thing that we too often take for granted, i.e., that we have this opportunity here to not just grow some amazing fruit, but also, to sell it in volume.
Finally, though the weather has put the whammy on us more often than usual, we're still hanging tough. Moreover, I'm seeing evidence of significant demand increases, and more importantly, I'm seeing indisputable evidence of what the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service claimed to be an 18% increase in the numbers of farms in Berrien County, MI alone. That bodes well for everyone here and also, outside the region. So it looks like our fruit belt agriculture engine is once again starting to fire on all cylinders. It's been a fairly long spell of decline, but not as long as other declines throughout our history.
For example, Berrien County, MI was the leading peach producing county in the U.S. during the late 1860's until about 1873 when the disease "Peach Yellows" struck. By 1875, we had no peach orchards left (that's no as in zero). But by 1940, we were once again number one in peaches! Think about that. It's an amazing history, but one that gives me confidence that fruit growing will not die here. We may suffer as our forefathers suffered, but we have always returned to be a powerhouse in production, and in marketing.
In closing, come to the Market. It only costs $5.00 for a day buyer's permit (a ten wheeler pays $10.00 and a semi-truck pays $15.00), and that permit allows anyone to buy at wholesale, direct from the farm families growing the fruit. And if you're a grower, come too! If you grow good fruit, you can sell it here, usually at a significant premium over other what primary channels offer. And, you get paid on the spot.