Keego Harbor Native Chases Cherry Dream
Michelle White creates healthy fruit products that help combat arthritis, sleep issues and more.
When Michelle White was a little girl growing up on Cass Lake in Keego Harbor, she enjoyed nothing but the best in outdoor play and healthy food.
“I loved that lake, year-round, playing whatever, ice boating, ice skating, swimming, water skiing,” said White, née Michelle Vidergar. Her family home was near the Pontiac Yacht Club in West Bloomfield Township. “I spent every minute I could taking advantage of the water, the beauty of the area, and the fresh air.”
“My mother was a stay-at-home mom and a great cook — I was a big eater,” White said with a laugh. “Mom always seemed to be making something.”
White’s parents, both of whom were Birmingham Seaholm High School sweethearts, believed Michelle, their only child, should eat fresh foods as much as possible. That was in the 1960s and 1970s; today, White continues to believe in eating foods that are local, fresh and beneficial.
Her appreciation for living near water and for all things healthy eventually lead her to a job in northwest Michigan as a payroll employee at a fruit-producing facility.
“At the end of the day, swarms of older people would come in daily asking for tart cherry juice,” she explained. "They were after the juice that is extracted when tart cherries are pitted. There was a need for space, so the farm employees turned it into concentrate."
One day, White asked her boss if he would consider marketing the concentrate and selling it on a bigger scale, producing more of it. “I knew there had to be something to this concentrate and sure enough, studies were coming out on the health benefits of cherries and how it was good for gout, arthritis, and other ailments,” she said.
White’s boss wasn’t ready to act on her proposal. “I remember someone calling about the cherry concentrate and they said that some university had come out with this study and specifically mentioned cherries and health benefits and why weren’t we selling cherry juice.”
The rest is entrepreneurial history. In 2008, White, 46, started Michelle’s Miracle, which features tart cherry products in liquid and pill form.
Cheers to Cherries
As February is National Cherry Month and American Hearth Month, White, the mother of two teenaged boys, is especially excited this time of year to talk about the celebrated, antioxidant-rich red fruit.
“Tart cherries contain more vitamin A and beta-carotene than raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, peaches, watermelon, oranges, blueberries or apples,” White said.
White’s Original Tart Cherry Concentrate features Montmorency cherries that have been fresh-picked, cold-packed and flash-pasteurized to preserve the flavor and potency.
Products include natural antioxidants, anthocyanins, melatonin and potassium. A Joint Formula Concentrate helps with joint and cartilage function, along with providing antioxidants. White’s Sleep Formula concentrate features the cherries’ melatonin, which not only helps to regulate sleep patterns but also can help the body destroy free radicals. The Sleep Formula also has valerian root extract, chamomile and more.
Henry Ford Health weighs in
“Cherries do have quite a few phytochemicals or phytonutrients, which have extra health benefits for us,” said Bethany Thayer, a registered dietician and director of wellness programs and strategies at Henry Ford Health System in West Bloomfield. “And they are high in anthocyanins, which are natural, extra-strong antioxidants, and antioxidants help protect our cells against oxidation.” Thayer says the phytonutrients help decrease inflammation, and that’s how they likely help to protect against arthritis.
University of Michigan research also confirms the fruit's health benefits. Eating 1 1/2 servings of tart cherries a day could significantly boost antioxidant activity in the body, according to a U-M study.
In the study, healthy adults who ate a cup and a half of frozen cherries had increased levels of antioxidants, specifically five different anthocyanins – the antioxidants that give cherries their red color.
Twelve healthy adults, aged 18-25 years, were randomly assigned to eat tart cherries. Researchers analyzed participants’ blood and urine at regular intervals after they ate the cherries and found increased antioxidant activity for up to 12 hours after eating cherries.
Wendy Rose Bice of Bloomfield Hills will take any health benefits she can get, especially if it’s through something like cherries, a fruit she’s quite passionate about. Bice, who follows a generally healthy diet, recently found Michelle’s Miracle concentrate at Plum Market in Bloomfield Township.
“They were out of it at the Plum Market in West Bloomfield,” Bice said. She decided to create a cherry-reduction sauce for a fish entrée. “It tasted really good on the fish,” she said.
Bice, associate director for the West Bloomfield-based Jewish Historical Society of Michigan, also makes cherry concentrate smoothies for her family’s morning send-off. “My 15-year-old likes the smoothies, but wanted to add Splenda,” Bice said. To create the smoothies, she mixes the concentrate with yogurt, milk, ice and flax seed.
Bice loves cherries not only for their health benefits, but because she wants to help support Michigan’s cherry industry. “I’m committed to buying local,” she said. “When I can, I do.”
She plans to use the concentrate in recipes for brownies, meatloaf, chocolate chip cookies, you name it.
While White no longer lives in the West Bloomfield area, she visits family and friends here regularly. And her Michelle’s Miracle products are very much a part of the community — you can typically find them at West Bloomfield Whole Foods Market, the BetterHealth Store of Bloomfield Hills and area Plum Markets.