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Tart Cherry Harvest 2
When tart cherries are ripe (usually in early July), they are harvested using a machine called a shaker. Shakers have taken the place of the old expensive hand-picking method, and have been a real boon to cherry growing. A highly specialized piece of equipment that costs over $100,000, this machine actually grips the trunk of the tree and shakes the tree to dislodge the cherries. The cherries fall off the trees onto a catcher, which is set at an angle to the shaker and allows the cherries to land gently and roll down to a mobile conveyer belt.
From the conveyer belt, the cherries are transferred to tanks of cold water. The tanks are taken to cooling stations where branches and leaves are flushed out with water, and where the cherries are cooled for four hours before being sent to the processing plant.
The cherries are continually washed at the rate of 100 gallons of fresh water per minute. Tart cherries are extremely perishable, which is why you won't see fresh tart cherries in the supermarket, and why harvest is so time sensitive and labor intensive.
From the cooling station the cherries go to local small processing plants where they are sorted and pitted. After the pits are removed, the cherries are sorted and packed for distribution.
Some of the cherries go directly to supermarkets in canned, frozen and dried forms. Other cherries are sold to manufacturers who use them to make pies, muffins, breads, ice cream, jam, juice and candy. And of course, some of them come right back to us as juice concentrate.