Students testify in official state fruit debate

LANSING – Students from opposite sides of the state were invited to testify before the Senate Government Operations Committee about choosing an official state fruit.

Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, sponsored Senate Bill 515, which would make the blueberry the official state fruit. Senate Bill 259, introduced by Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, would designate the cherry.

“The blueberry industry is a major part of the Southwest Michigan economy,” said Schuitmaker.  “I hope that this hearing will highlight the hard work done by our local blueberry growers and their importance in the community.”

Students from Saint Basil Catholic School and Baseline Middle School in South Haven came to Lansing to testify in support of the blueberry. The South Haven area has the greatest concentration of blueberry farms in the state. The students were each given the chance to make statements to the committee members.

Warren invited students from Slauson Middle School and Forsythe Middle School in Ann Arbor to testify in support of the cherry.

“This was a great lesson for the students about how the legislative process works,” Schuitmaker said. “As legislators, we often have to make difficult decisions between two competing good ideas. There are strong arguments for both the blueberry and the cherry, and I think everyone got to see that this is not an easy decision.”

Michigan is one of the largest producers of blueberries in the nation. Blueberries are grown on 21,000 acres spread across 600 farms, with an average yield around 100 million pounds of the sweet fruit annually. Many of those farms are located along the lakeshore in Southwest Michigan.

Michigan already has a designated state bird, mammal, fish, flower, gem and a number of other symbols. No state fruit is currently recognized.

Michigan is also a leading cherry producer, with production of tart cherries concentrated in the Traverse Bay region.