In late July driving through the cherry farms of Payson and Santaquin the trees were amazingly loaded with the bright red fruit.
It was just a few days before harvesting was to begin. Harvesting usually begins the last week in July and runs through the first two weeks of August.
There are two types of cherries, sweet cherries, and tart cherries. The cherries grown in Utah County are tart cherries. This is the type of cherry traditionally used as pie filling.
However, a few years ago a process was perfected for drying and packaging cherries that can be used in snacks and granola.
It has also been discovered that tart cherries have a high concentration of antioxidants and their use as a health food has increased demand.
Utah is the second largest producer of tart cherries in the United States, producing about 30 million pounds a year. Harvesting is amazing with some very specialized and expensive equipment.
A low-slung vehicle attaches to the trunk of the tree and hydraulically shakes the tree which cause the cherries to fall off the tree. Another piece of equipment that sort of looks like the conveyor that you see on the airport ramp has a pair of semicircular collecting pans to collect and move the cherries.
Each tree produces about 130 pounds of cherries which are moved directly into cool water. The vehicles move from tree to tree.
The harvesting and processing crews work from near sunrise to sunset, six days a week until the harvesting is complete.
It is about a three-week process to complete the harvesting.From tree to freezer takes about 12 hours. (Helmick is a Serve Daily contributor.)