By SHELLY STRAUTZ-SPRINGBORN
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Courtney Heeren and Kate Sage will spend the next year promoting Michigan’s apple industry.
Heeren, a fourth-generation packer and shipper whose father is part owner of Heeren Brothers Produce, was crowned the 2013 Michigan Apple Queen during the annual Michigan Apple Industry luncheon Dec. 5, 2012, at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. This was during the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo.
Sage, who is the granddaughter and niece of apple growers, was named first runner-up.
Heeren, 20, is the daughter of Dan and Jill Heeren and a student at Central Michigan University, where she is studying special education with a focus in emotional impairment. She hopes to become an elementary school teacher or a special education teacher.
Heeren has worked for her family’s company for the past three years. During this time, she said she has learned much about the business and believes she can be a positive role model to bring awareness to the apple industry, especially after last year’s difficult growing season.
“I’m looking forward to all of the events that we get to go to and all the people we get to talk to,” she said of being named Apple Queen. “I’m kind of the middleman at work, so I’m excited to get to know more farmers and more consumers, too.
“We have to keep a positive attitude. The crops will be good next year, so I’m excited about it. I hope I can get other people excited about it.”
Sage, 19, is the daughter of Grant and Lynne Sage. She is a student at Southwestern Michigan College where she is working toward an associate degree in science.
She plans to transfer to the University of Wyoming to pursue a degree in animal science or agribusiness. Ultimately, she hopes to work with livestock in a ranch setting.
As an employee of her family’s farm, Sage said representing the apple industry is “an honor” that will allow her to continue her family’s heritage and to promote the industry after a tough year.
“I’m really looking forward to 2013 for a comeback,” she said. “This year was a very tough year, with a 90 percent crop loss. It’s going to be really exciting to represent the industry.”
This year marked the 62nd of the competition that awards an apple representative based on poise, beauty, apple knowledge and public speaking ability. Heeren and Sage will spend the year attending different events and festivals as the face of the Michigan apple industry. They will also travel to schools throughout the state teaching students about apples.
Michigan Apple Committee Executive Director Diane Smith said the industry “is very fortunate to select a knowledgeable, attractive and enthusiastic young lady to be our spokeswoman for the next year.
“It is a special honor for these young ladies to be selected to represent the Michigan Apple industry.”
Contestants for Michigan Apple Queen must be between 17-23 years old and have a connection to the state apple industry in order to serve as its ambassador.
For their accomplishments, Heeren received a $1,500 scholarship and Sage, a $500 scholarship, from the Michigan Apple Committee, and they each were awarded a $500 scholarship from the Michigan State Horticultural Society.
The Michigan Apple Committee sponsors the queen contest. It is a grower-funded nonprofit organization devoted to marketing, education and research activities to distinguish the Michigan apple and encourage its consumption in Michigan and around the world. For more information, visit www.MichiganApples.com