As a born Californian, I’ve grown up with first-hand knowledge of cherries that come from California, and that they’re available only early in the year before it gets hot. This was before I had a chance to meet and talk to Cherry growers Cody and Dusti Herring who have “landed a fish” as they say. And what a fish! Cody and Dusti currently live in Yellow Bay, Montana; a lovely community surrounding FlatheadLake with fantastic views of the lake, Glacier Mountains, and lush, scenic views of Wildhorse Island and Yellow Bay. Along with it being close to paradise, the growing conditions here are also ideal for cherries.
Approximately 11 years ago Cody Herring was your average construction worker in Dallas, Texas. His mother, an enterprising woman by the name of Marcia Zimmermann was busy in the insurance industry. That year, Marcia went on a vacation to Yellow Bay to shoot sporting clays and became enchanted with the area. Being the entrepreneurial spirit she is, she inquired locally with a real estate agent about any possible business opportunities available and then headed home never imagining what her query would lead to. Two years passed and one day she received a phone call from that agent about a cherry orchard for sale.
Buying it on a lark, sight unseen in 2001, Marcia did what many first time orchard buyers do- having no knowledge of the fruit she decided to embark on an adventure. Quickly the 35- acre orchard began to do what God intended it to do- it produced a crop. And then another, and another, and Marcia, who initially saw this just as a real estate investment; realized the pickle she was in and called on her family for help. Cody heeded the call, moved to Montana and began to study the Cherry industry and the science of Cherries.
What did he find? Cody liked the mentality of Canadian growers who are smaller and more focused on higher quality fruit - as opposed to Washington and other growers who are on a larger scale and whose primary attention is on quantity, leaving them no time to be “hands on.” Deciding to run their business like the Canadians, Herring stated;
“We’re not picking to fill orders; we’re going for size and sugar content.”
The conditions of the soil and the environment surrounding Flathead lake are ideal for growing cherries, and there are cherry orchards all around the lake- can you just imagine the vision of pink blossoms around this lake every year in the spring? With abundant orchards come co-ops, and initially, Cody and his family joined the local co-op. Most neighboring farmers sell their cherries from a stand on the side of a busy road, and for a while, the Herrings did the same. Innovation and that entrepreneurial spirit, however, pushed them to do something different in 2005. That was the year they decided to leave the Co-op, become independent, and go global. Global? That’s right- a mere 5 years later and their operation has become successful, and that’s an understatement. Now you can purchase Glacier Fresh Orchard cherries if you live in Barcelona, Taipei, Brussels, or Paris. During its peak, they employ approximately 150 people, mostly seasonal pickers and packers but also a healthy dose of family and friends as well. Zimmermanns’ former two husbands and current Fiancé help with the orchard and packing processes, and her daughter, 19 yr. old Jenny Wheelan who has been the short-order cook for breakfast, lunch and dinner for 15 people or more since she was 14yrs old. Also in the picture is good friend Sherry Bennett from Fort Worth, Texas who, as well, moved out to Montana and took over the payroll. Behind the wheel of this highly successful endeavor are Cody and his wife Dusti who are recently married and are happily living out their dream working side by side.
With that eye on quality the herrings have applied the same concept to their entire operation- including how they treat their customers and how they care for their employees. A little kindness, care and decency can go a long way, and they have loyalty in their employees and in their customers because of their philosophy. So how does it go in full cherry picking season? Family and friends come out of the woodwork and have a great time. Pickers, packers, staff, management and family run as a well oiled machine. The air is charged with excitement during these important 3 weeks and they are putting out what we can honestly say is some of the greatest cherries grown in the world. You just can't find cherries like this at your grocery store. Dusti states - “We love what we do and are very proud to share with others.”
So if you buy cherries from Glacier Farms, how fresh is fresh? Within 48 hours of being hand-picked every cherry has made its way from the tree to its prospective market in Italy, France, Canada, United States, Germany, England or China. Currently they bring to your market 35 acres worth of Lapins, Sweetheart, and Rainier cherries. Soon though, they will also carry later varieties which will be available in 2012. Since their primary focus is on the largest and sweetest cherries, every June Herring will have half of the crop hand-thinned to allow the remaining cherries more room to grow and less competition for nutrients and sunlight for optimal growth and sweetness. Is your mouth watering yet? Mine is!