This photo depicts apple pickers in the Old Mission Peninsula. It was taken in the early 1890s. (The caption on the front of the photo gives the year as “1894.” However, identifying information on the back gives the year as “1891.” The exact date, then, is uncertain.)
Michigan’s Fruit Belt
Michigan’s “fruit belt” strides the shore of Lake Michigan. The Lake itself plays a key role. It functions as a moderating body, preventing temperatures from getting too cold in the fall and too hot in the summer. It also provides the frequent rainfall that fruit farmers require. This climate combines with rich soil and regional topography to provide ideal fruit-growing conditions.
The Growth of an Industry
Michigan’s fruit industry started to boom about the time of the Civil War. By then, Chicago’s growing population had provided a ready market. Transportation improvements (notably the expansion of railroads) provided greater access to this and other population centers.
In Grand Traverse County (where the photo above was taken), the fruit industry grew as the lumber industry declined. In 1872, Grand Traverse County yielded 3,241 bushels of apples. Thirty years later, that number had increased to 276,000 bushels for a single year! Around the same time, Grand Traverse County had become Michigan’s number one county for cherry production.
Some Current Numbers…
Michigan continues to be a leader in fruit production. In the year 2000, it ranked third nationwide in apple production. The state also ranks first in the production of blueberries and red tart cherries and fourth in the production of sweet cherries. Many other fruits, including peaches, plums, grapes and strawberries, grow abundantly here. For more information, click Michigan Agricultural Commodities to visit the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s Commodities Site.
Archives of Michigan Holdings
The Archives of Michigan houses a number of historical photographs documenting Michigan fruit culture. These can be found in the General Photograph Collection and also in a few private collections, such as the Richard W. Appleyard Collection (Click Richard W. Appleyard Collection: Online Catalog Record to view the catalog record of this collection.) Photographs and textual records of the Michigan Department of Agriculture also document aspects of the Michigan fruit industry.
The following Michigan History magazine articles provided data for this essay:
“Grand Traverse County” by Roger Rosentreter. Michigan History November/December 1982, pp. 13-16.
“The Secret Ingredient” by Kristin Jass Armstrong. Michigan History May/June 2006 pp. 6-12.