Fall has become a season of festivals in more than 50 towns and cities throughout Michigan.
For travelers, there is no better time to enjoy the state's bountiful fruit and vegetable harvest, admire the dazzling array of autumn colors and share the strong community harvest spirit dating to pioneer days.
The range of fall festival themes in Michigan this year is as varied as the produce that fills county fair booths and farmers' market stands. Apples, potatoes, pumpkins and grapes for winemaking are the most popular.
In 1990, Michigan produced 750 million pounds of apples, making it the No. 3 producer nationwide behind Washington state and New York state, according to the Michigan Agricultural Statistics Service.
In addition, Michigan farmers last year produced 1.2 billion pounds of potatoes and in 1987 (the last count available), they harvested 1,350 acres of pumpkins.
To wash it all down, 1.1 million liters of Michigan-made wine were sold last year, according to the state's Liquor Control Commission.
Visitors will have plenty of opportunities to sample a variety of award-winning wines and champagnes during the Michigan Wine and Harvest Festival Sept. 6-8 in the village of Paw Paw. During the festival, teams of grape-stom- See MICHIGAN, 0X, Col. 0MICHIGAN, from 1Xpers will climb into large containers and compete for first prize.
The less adventuresome will be able to tour the vineyards and compare the table wines produced at several local wineries, including St. Julian Wine Co. Inc., the oldest (established in 1921) and largest wine producer in the state.
While Paw Paw is toasting the grape, seven other Michigan communities -- Ypsilanti, Fenton, Freeland, Belding, Coldwater, Mount Pleasant and Charlevoix -- will be feting the apple.
The lineup of varieties grown around the state reads like a roster of collegiate sports teams: Spartans, Corlands, McIntoshes, Jonamacs and two kinds of Delicious -- red and gold.
On Sept. 21, Coldwater's Applefest '91 will feature an apple bake-off and an apple festival king and queen pageant. That same weekend, Freeland will host an Apple Country Art and Craft Show showcasing works by local artists.
Wiard's Orchard, located near Ypsilanti, will offer weekend activities from Sept. 7-8 through Halloween as part of their autumn country fair.
Owner Jay Wiard, who is the fifth generation of Wiards to manage the orchard since it was established by his great-great-grandfather, George Wiard, in 1853, says events scheduled throughout the fall include an old-fashioned steam engine exhibition, a scarecrow contest and both a Civil War and an American Revolution encampment. There will be live country music and arts and crafts exhibits every weekend.
"I grew up on the orchard and I used to earn money as a kid picking up the windfall apples [fruit that had fallen off the tree]," .. recalls Mr. Wiard, 33. "My brother, Scott, and I also made some great forts out of all those wooden apple crates.
"I always remember the fall as a fun time when a lot of people came out to the farm to help with the harvest. It was like a big reunion for all of us."
Pommes de terre -- literally "apples of the ground," as the French call their potatoes -- will be the agricultural celebrities at the Michigan State Potato Festival in Edmore and the Posen Potato Festival in Posen.
What is there to do at a potato festival?
Edmore's celebration Sept. 12-15 will include a potato pancake breakfast, a potato festival parade and a Michigan State Potato Festival queen pageant.
In Posen, festival activities Sept. 6-8 will revolve around a parade, carnival, live music, beauty pageant and best potato dish contest.
Pumpkins will bask in the limelight this fall in Bessemer Oct. 11-12.
No one in the city probably would have predicted 13 years ago that a wager between two local businessmen over who could grow the heavier pumpkin would become an annual fall festival that draws thousands of people for two days of fun and frolic.
Roy Malnberg and Ray Brown, the two who started it all, might even be the most surprised by the Bessemer Pumpkin Festival's unprecedented success.
Mr. Brown won that original bet in 1978 with a 7 1/2 -pound pumpkin and was treated to lunch by Mr. Malnberg, the loser. After that, Bessemer's annual pumpkin-weighing contests were held under a large tent pitched in the middle of town, accompanied by pumpkin pie and hot coffee.
Things have come a long way since the first Bessemer Pumpkin Festival. Last year the top prize in the annual pumpkin-weighing contest went to Ken Brace for one that tipped the scales at 140 pounds.
In addition, the annual event now includes pumpkin-decorating and -carving competitions, a pumpkin parade, a seed-spitting contest (the record is more than 30 feet), a harvest dance and a pumpkin quilt show.
A panel of judges will be on hand to select winning entries for the biggest pumpkin as well as a variety of other fruits, vegetables and livestock during the Marquette County Fair, which runs Sept. 5-8.