Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Cherry Harvest

Being raised on opposite ends of the continent, both Lisa and I were lucky enough to be exposed to home grown food early in life. For me, it was mornings in my grandma’s garden – one that stretched across the whole backyard. I grew up knowing the taste of a warm, sweet carrot pulled directly from the soil and the taste of peas picked straight off the vine. I’m heading home to see Grandma in a couple weeks and I can hardly wait to sit next to her on the porch and peel peas for dinner.

A few weeks ago, I had a taste of my childhood when I visited Chelan, a picturesque town in Northern Washington that’s not only a popular vacation destination, it’s also home to one of the largest cherry production sites in the world. 

During my days at Chelan, life slowed down to happy pace, I met and mingled with some of the kindest people, and ate sweet fruit to my heart’s content.

sushi rolling class with Chef Joseph Nagy at Maki Sushi using Chelan Fresh apples, cherries, and pears

the prettiest blueberry plants at Blueberry Hills
blueberry picking (after the yummiest breakfast) at Blueberry Hills

As a dietitian, I could go on and on about the about the health benefits of cherries, specifically their powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The cherry's ability to reduce oxidative stress can play a role in protection against cognitive decline, reducing inflammation in individuals with arthritis, and enhancing muscle recovery after exercise. And let's not forget about their fiber content; 3 grams per serving! 

But today, I’m also going to talk about the amazing process of harvesting these sweet little gems.

During the course of one season at Lake Chelan, over 20,000 tons of cherries are harvested. Herald Schell, Field Staff Manager of Chelan Fruit, a group which consists of approximately 300 grower members emphasized that farming is not for the faint of heart. And a lot more goes into this process than I had ever imagined. 

Herald Schell, Field Staff Manager of Chelan Fruit with a young apple tree

When a cherry is ripening, for example, rain water has the potential to seep into the cherry and split it from the top. To prevent this from happening, helicopter pilots fly low around the orchards in the morning to dry the cherries and remove the water -- all doing so without damaging them. You can see how the helicopters work their magic here. After the cherries are picked in the morning, they are then sent to the warehouse where they are photographed 36 times to detect color, size, and defects. 

Each cherry is individually sorted into a cup and 1,796 cups are viewed and evaluated each minute. I still have a tough time wrapping my head around this process. 

This ultimately means that each time we bite into a cherry, we are guaranteed the very best quality.  You can see more on the “Making of the Perfect Cherry” is this video from Chelan Fresh Marketing here.

So how do we support our farmers, those hard working individuals that work behind the scenes to nourish us with some of the best and most nutritious food on the planet? “We just need more Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables,” said Schell. That's the goal. I couldn't agree any more.

in the cherry fields, sampling some of those sweet, delicious fruits!

Are You an RD or health care professional? You can sign up for the Chelan Fresh RD Toolkit here to receive recipes and resources for apples, pears and cherries for use with your clients and for outreach activities.


  1. I love this post, and I'm definitely signing up. Thanks for showing a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how much work goes into growing cherries!

    1. Aw, you're welcome Caroline! You'll love the toolkit! It's filled with tons of great info.