Bangor blueberry farm recovers from 2016 tornado outbreak

A sign outside True Blue Farms in Bangor, Mich.


BANGOR, Mich. (WOOD) — Sunday marks one year since the biggest tornado outbreak in years in West Michigan.

There was damage from Van Buren County to Montcalm County — with some spots in metro Grand Rapids hit hard.

There were six tornadoes, leaving a large path of downed trees and power outages that lasted for days.

Some of the worst damage was near Bangor.

The paths of the five tornadoes that hit West Michigan on Aug. 20, 2016.

“You could see it like black and grey with building debris and tree limbs and leaves and everything just kind of swirling around in there,” said Shelly Hartmann, who owns True Blue Farms with her husband, Dennis. “I’m like, ‘Tornado!’”

Within an instant, crops, buildings, cars and equipment were destroyed, causing millions of dollars in damage.

“Who would ever think a tornado was going to hit Grand Junction, Michigan?” Hartmann said.

But with every cloud comes a silver lining.

“Nobody got hurt,” Hartmann said. “And that was right there a blessing because if we would have been in one building, I’m pretty sure there would have been some casualties.”

Hartmann walked through a new, large facility that cools and freezes fruit. It had to be rebuilt after the tornado. But Hartmann says money and insurance and blueberries only tell part of the story.

“All the buildings can be replaced, the equipment can be replaced, we can rebuild, we can grow more blueberries, but the people’s lives were what truly mattered, and that was the take away from all of it, nobody was hurt,” she said.

This year, Mother Nature has smiled on the farm. Hartmann says they have had a good crop.

“When you go through something like that it will change your life forever,” said Hartmann.

Hartmann says the tornado changed her in another way, too. She pays more attention to the weather and weather reports than she did before the tornado.