Showing Michigan Cherries Some Love this Valentine’s Day
By: Abigail Harper, Farm to School Specialist, Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems
This Valentine’s Day, over 100,000 Michiganders will celebrate local agriculture by participating in the Michigan Cherry Slurp. This one-day event is an opportunity for Michigan institutions including schools, early childhood programs, hospitals, colleges and universities, organizations, businesses, and individuals to get creative and host an event centered around Michigan tart cherries. The event was based off the Michigan Apple Crunch – in October 2016, over 300,000 participants simultaneously crunched into a Michigan grown apple. This time, they’ll be choosing a cherry treat!
In addition to being a fun way to celebrate local food, events like the Cherry Slurp and Apple Crunch can help kick start institutional local purchasing efforts. Consider the story of Hart Public Schools, whose participation in the 2015 Apple Crunch spurred district wide farm to school efforts. By connecting with a local apple farmer for the Crunch they not only learned that their students preferred Michigan apples to their previous source, but also that, by increasing storage, they could source Michigan apples longer. They also learned about other crops available in their area. The food service team now sources Michigan apples nearly year-round and have added winter squash, plums, and summer squash to their local purchasing efforts.
Cherries are typically celebrated in July and August at the height of harvest season, but the Michigan Cherry Slurp is an opportunity for institutions to learn about tart cherries in other forms – specifically dried and frozen. Cultivate Michigan features dried and frozen cherries in their suite of winter products with this intent in mind. Local processors and food hubs are increasing their supply of Michigan frozen cherry products to be available year long. Farm to Freezer, a processor in Traverse City, even created a special Michigan fruit blend for the Slurp event.
The Cherry Slurp started with the idea of slurping a cherry smoothie, but institutions are encouraged to find a way to celebrate cherries that works for them. Institutions could feature dried cherries on their salad bar, in a breakfast muffin, or mixed in with granola. Frozen cherries could be featured in a smoothie, a pie, or in a cherry sauce.
One Michigan school district isn’t stopping at a smoothie. The food service staff at Tekonsha Community Schools are making their Valentine’s Day celebration healthier by featuring cherries in three different forms. They are kicking the Cherry Slurp off with a breakfast of oatmeal topped with dried Michigan cherries. For lunch alongside cherry smoothies they’ll be serving fruit salad with Michigan cherries that arrive packed in water, which removes added sugar. They’re also planning on holding a schoolwide competition to see who can guess the number of dried cherries they stuff into a jar. The class that guesses the closest will get to share the dried cherries for an afternoon snack.
To learn more about and join Cultivate Michigan, visit http://cultivatemichigan.org.