Hard work, cooperation creates Polebridge Merc's Flathead cherry bear claw pastries

David Erickson Antonio Ibarra

POLSON, MISSOULA and POLEBRIDGE — The famous sweet-and-juicy Flathead cherries form the epicenter of a partnership between three different businesses in western Montana, and the final result of their cooperation is a sweet treat that delights visitors to the remote Polebridge Mercantile on the border of Glacier National Park.

Gateway Orchard near Polson, which has been in operation for nearly a century and has been owned by the same family since the late ‘70s, begins the process. They do the hard work of growing their famous Lambert cherries, despite constant headaches like an historically cold spring this year, fruit-loving bears, worker shortages, hail, wildfires and slim profit margins.

After the harvest by migrant pickers who brave the heat and smoke in the summer, the crimson-hued, tasty fruit is shipped to the nonprofit Western Montana Growers Cooperative in Missoula, which works with a food processing facility in Ronan. The cherries are pitted and frozen in order to retain their freshness.

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Next, the fruit gets trucked to the historic Polebridge Mercantile, where owner Will Hammerquist and his bakers use them for their

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