Northern Michigan Farming: The first warm evening of April has arrived, and with it comes a startling and intoxicating sense of promise that rises up from the rolling terrain and orderly orchards of Leelanau County. The spring light lingers. A mist settles in the valleys. The birds sing. And though the trees remain bare and leafless, and the fields are a tawny-gray mat of winterkill grasses, there is somehow a potent and unmistakable feeling that life is about to burst forth.

It’s go time for the world, and the awareness of that is felt ever so acutely by the 60 or so people gathered this evening at the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center. They are farmers, fresh from the April orchards and already tanned to an even bronze. They range from their 20s to their 70s, about 55 men and five women, and for the most part they wear the uniform of the American farmer: plaid shirts and jeans, with an occasional billed cap showing off an ag company logo.

The farmers drift into the research center main meeting room, settle into chairs and pull out notepads. At spring’s most dramatic moment, they’re here for an essential rite, an annual lesson that’s part biology, part chemistry and what feels like part War College. This evening, Nikki Rothwell, a Ph.D. entomologist—bug expert—and head of the research center, is conducting a strategy session for keeping orchards free of fungi and bacteria and invading insects. After all, go time for orchardists means go time for their enemies too.

Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowski