I’ve had a few readers ask me what exactly happens at a cherry cooling pad. I post a lot of behind-the-scenes photos of the Johnson Farms cooling pad (my family’s farm), about a half-mile north of Mapleton, over at the Gazette’s Instagram account. You can follow it here, if you’re an Instagrammer and so inclined.
Basically, a cooling pad is a place where tart cherries spend some quality time submerged in cold water, in preparation for their long journey downstate to a processor, where they’re transported elsewhere or turned into cherry products.
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Note that the cooling factor only applies to tart cherries. Sweets are shaken into wooden boxes and shipped without cooling.
After the tart cherries are shaken from the tree into metal tanks – here’s how a cherry shaker works – they’re then taken to the cooling pad, either by a truck or a forklift, if they’re shaking close by. At the cooling pad, a PVC unit is gently sunk into the middle of the cherries, and cold water runs through the PVC, cooling the cherries down.
Once they’re firm enough, the cherries are loaded onto a truck and shipped downstate.
Note that every farmer has their own small cooling pad, where their cherries are cooled after shaking. The Johnson Farms cooling pad, however, also acts as a “receiving station” for other farmers on the Old Mission Peninsula. This means that other farmers bring their cherries to the Johnson Farms cooling pad, where they’re shipped out collectively to the processors.
I believe there are only two receiving stations on the Peninsula – Johnson Farms and the one across from Old Mission Tavern. Someone correct me in the comments below if I’m wrong on that (or anything else).
While only tarts require cooling, both tarts and sweets are tested at the receiving station by taking a small sample of cherries from the boxes and testing for things like size, quality of fruit, etc. The higher the rating, the more money the farmer gets for them.
As mentioned, at the moment they’re shaking both sweets and tarts, which makes for fun times at the Johnson Farms cooling pad with a thousand things happening at once.
Cherries are being transported to the pad and cooled down, trucks of every size are coming and going, forklift drivers are loading and unloading trucks, cherries are being tested, and my niece Heatherlyn Johnson somehow keeps track of everything without the whole operation sinking into utter chaos.
There are still a couple weeks to go in this year’s shaking season, at which point the farmers attempt to decompress and get ready for apple season to follow in a month or so.
So if you see trucks loaded with tanks coming and going on Old Mission Peninsula roads, give them a little extra room to do what they need to do.