Flying cherries to China

You may think ‘apples’ when you think of produce that is plentiful in the Northwest, but cherries – Bing, Rainier, Chelan, Lapin and other varieties – take pride of place here too.

In the past five years the Northwest Cherry Industry packed and sold an average of 196,000 tons of fresh cherries, reaching an all time high of 232,000 tons in 2014.

Weather conditions are good for cherries this year and growers are expecting perhaps another record crop.

Getting to eat fresh cherries is a treat here in the U.S. this time of year but, as I learned at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport,  about 30 percent of the Northwest cherry crop gets exported, with most of the our best cherries going to China. There, cherries that can sometimes approach the size of golf balls (!) sell for up to $1 a piece, according to Keith Hu of the Northwest Cherry Growers.

This cherry-themed Boeing 777 freighter operated by China Cargo (a division of China Eastern Airlines) and dubbed the “Cherry Express” is just one of the planes used to ferry Northwest cherries to Asia to the tune of more than 40 million pounds in 2016 and possibly more this year. And that’s just the cherries that fly via Seattle.

During the season an average of 6 or 7 freighters filled with cherries leave Seattle for China, and Korea, with more cherries flying out of airports in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago to accommodate demand, according to Hu.

Premium Northwest cherries in Asia can sell for up to $10 a pound, said Hu, and are considered  a “unique, rare, safe, nutritional and sexy product.”

Pallets of Northwest cherries make it from the trees to grocery shops in Asia in just a few days.

Souvenir Sunday: cherries & more from Mineta San Jose International Airport

Each Sunday at we take a look at some of the fun and inexpensive souvenirs you can find at airport gift shops.

This week’s treats come from Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC), which just opened its new high-tech Terminal B to the public.

Souvenir motherboard magnet

At SJC, there’s free wireless Internet access throughout the terminals, but in the new Terminal B, 25% of the seats are equipped with AC outlets and USB ports. So re-charging your electronics shouldn’t be a problem. But when you plug in, pay attention: I thought I was charging up my cell-phone only to look down a half hour later and discover that I was plugged into a bank of chairs that wasn’t ‘turned on’ yet.

San Jose Airport power port chairs

But let’s get back to Souvenir Sunday. I spent last Wednesday – the entire day – touring the new Terminal B at San Jose Airport.  So I had plenty of time to poke around.

In the San Jose store, which promises local souvenirs and memorabilia, I found shirts, caps, and water bottles branded with the San Jose Sharks hockey team logo, but all that stuff was more than $10.

San Hose Sharks Hockey team - souvenirs

The recycled motherboard notebooks and cute little frames made out of recycled keyboard letters seemed very Silicon Valley, but a store clerk said she was pretty sure those items were all made in China.

San Jose Airport souvenir recycle motherboard notebook

Moving on, I found a branch of C.J. Olson Cherries. For more than 100 years, this family-owned farm has been growing cherries and operating a fruit stand in Sunnyvale, which looks to be about a 15 minute drive from the San Jose Airport.

The airport shop is small, but it sells fresh cherries and other fresh fruit as well as dried fruits, nuts, fruit-flavored candies and cherry accessories.

C.J. Olsons cherries sign

For my Souvenir Sunday pick, I got a small container of fresh cherries.

C.J. Olson cherries

The cherry-themed apron fell outside my $10 Souvenir Sunday limit, but I found a plenty of cherry-flavored treats that fell well within my  budget.

chocolate covered bing cherries

Have you found a great souvenir while you were stuck at the airport? If it cost around $10, is “of” the city or region and is, ideally, a bit offbeat, please snap a photo and send it along.

Your photo may end up featured on a future edition of Souvenir Sunday.

And if it is, I’ll send you a special souvenir.