Green Eyes On: A New Superfood Emerges

green eyes on horticulture center michigan

Image via Sara Snow.

Last week, in case you didn't notice from my constant stream (for me, anyway) of Twitter and Facebook updates, I made it back to my home state of Michigan. On my way up to Leland, Michigan I stopped in Traverse City for a visit to the Cherry Festival and a tour of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station. Aside from the dribble of cherry juice from the corner of my mouth, I was struck by this: what we think of as a beautiful flowering tree is also a powerful super fruit with the ability to save your health and the planet's.

green eyes on ripe cherries

Image via Sara Snow.
Tart cherries (maybe you know this, maybe you don't) have been linked to some serious health benefits including decreasing one's risk for heart disease and other life threatening illnesses, alleviating pain from arthritis and gout, and reducing inflammation. Research shows that a diet rich in cherries may help reduce inflammation and many other risk factors associated with heart disease. And the phytonutrient 'anthocyanins' which gives the fruit their red color, can help protect against heart disease and some cancers. Cherries are also being looked at for the role they can play in reducing risk factors for type 2 diabetes and for how they can help you sleep better. Pretty good stuff! You can see why they're considered a super fruit in relation to human health, anyway.

But what about being a super fruit for the planet? A native to Michigan I always realized that we had a pretty healthy cherry farming production going on up-state, but I didn't know that about 95% of the cherries eaten in the U.S. are grown in the U.S., with more than 70% of those coming from Michigan. The rest are grown in Wisconsin, Utah, Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania and New York. All said, the U.S. cherry crop yields between 200 and 300 million pounds of tart cherries a year. That's a lot of cherries, and a LOT of cherries being grown right here in the U.S.!

Today, more and more Americans want to know exactly where their food is coming from. Currently about 80% of American are purchasing as much "locally produced" foods as possible. And while sticking within 100 miles is the ideal for some, just eating domestic foods is good enough for many.

I can't say that I agree with that entirely. I mean, just this morning I was at my farmers' market where I stocked up on fruits, vegetables and eggs that were all grown within 100 miles of my home. But I do like that people, whether nothing more, are starting to take note of where and how their foods are being grown.

And because of that, I really like what they're doing on a picturesque 100 acre piece of property in Traverse City. It was bought by area cherry farmers and leased back to Michigan State University (researchers in the horticulture department primarily) for just $1 for 99 years. Essentially, the area farmers wanted someone to spend time studying the 300 varieties of cherry trees grown there to determine things like how to increase yield without increasing chemical dependency, how crops are effected by different climate conditions and soil types, and how other crops, like hops and apples, can be grown as companion crops with the cherries. This is all research they're engaged in now.

Right now researchers at the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station are also working with a new state-of-the-art sprinkler systems that allows them to adjust for rain and other factors from their cell phone in a remote location. And a new harvester that works like a car wash to gently pull the cherries from the trees, allowing them to harvest "market ready" cherries earlier in the season. And because organic cherries are at greatest risk to the Plum Curculio (there is a zero tolerance for presence of the larvae in organically grown cherries), researchers are working on a new type of trap that allows them to detect when the insects first appear in the fields. In non-organic fields where pesticide sprays are used, farmers can minimize their pesticide applications by only spraying when they know the insects are present.

All in all, it's pretty impressive work being done for a fruit you probably hadn't thought much about, except maybe as a pie filling or a sundae topper. But now knowing the health benefits — for you and the planet — of the fruit, maybe you'll give cherries a second thought.

Cherries are in season now, so stock up while you can. But you'll also find dried, frozen and juiced tart cherries year round so you can enjoy them any time of year. I stir them dried into my yogurt and oatmeal. And I love sparkling water or wine with a little tart cherry concentrate in it.

Here's my recipe for a Cherry Breakfast Smoothie
• 1 ripe banana
• 2 cups frozen tart cherries
• 1 cup rice milk or yogurt
• 2 scoops protein powder
• 1 tablespoon flax seed oil
Blend and enjoy!!

Green Eyes On: A New Superfood Emerges
Last week, in case you didn't notice from my constant stream (for me, anyway) of Twitter and Facebook updates, I made it back to my home state of Michigan. On my way up to Leland, Michigan I stopped in Traverse City for a visit to