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US (MI): Blueberry farm recovers from August tornadoes

In August, a series of tornadoes, with winds reaching in excess of 130 miles per hour, ripped through southern and central Michigan. True Blue Farms, a blueberry operation near Grand Junction, Michigan, was near the tail end of harvest at the time and was caught in the path of destruction.

True Blue Farms sustained extensive damage to its fresh packing facility and several vehicles, sparing 65 workers in a nearby processing unit. It left Shelly Hartmann, who co-owns the business with her husband, Dennis, feeling grateful that no one was hurt.

She credited a simple strategic decision, and the benefit of safety training required of all of her workers, for the good fortune.

“We were just all working in the (processing) plant,” she recalled. “It was a typical day, a little rainy, but nothing major. I was not really thinking about it too much.”

About a half hour before the brunt of the storm hit, management was considering a plan to work late Saturday, Aug. 20, to wrap up, giving workers Sunday off. It was decided to stick to the original schedule, returning Sunday to package the fresh fruit.

“We decided it was best to stay on schedule, and work (in the fresh facility) tomorrow,” Hartmann said. “We have an L-shaped facility. The shorter side is where the fresh is – that’s the part that got hit by the tornado. I call it divine intervention” that led to the decision to stay put.

The storm, later confirmed as a tornado by the National Weather Service, hopped across the blueberry field and caused more damage in nearby communities.

The quick action to put things back in order was necessary because “we were still bringing in crops. By the end of the afternoon we started receiving fruit again on the processing side.”

She said while the damage “hampered our fresh program, we had another facility in which we could relocate our packing and storage. It hasn’t been easy, but we have been blessed because it could have been worse.”

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