(Editor’s note: Isaiah Wunsch is the CEO of Wunsch Farms and the owner of 120 acres of Peninsula Township orchard land. With his mother Barbara and siblings Raul and Adele, he operates over 1,000 acres of fresh market cherries and apples, which are distributed throughout the upper Midwest and the world. – jb)
I am a sixth-generation cherry and apple farmer on Old Mission, and I am writing today to express my appreciation for the work that you have done and the work that you continue to do to make Old Mission a vibrant community with an excellent quality of life. While the pull of a family farm is strong for most daughters and sons of farmers, it was not the farm, but the work that you have done that drew me back to Wunsch Farms and Old Mission following the pursuit of undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as a stint working in business and community development at the state level.
While I must avoid weighing in on current policy and legal matters facing the Township (Note: Isaiah is a member of the Peninsula Township Board and is also the Township Board representative on the Planning Commission. -jb), I have observed a pattern of deceitful and inaccurate attacks on the residents of our community by a strident and tactless minority over the course of the past few weeks.
First, as a 34-year-old resident of our community, I do not see my neighbors as a group of intractable curmudgeons, but rather as successful parents. While some of you are recent arrivals to the Peninsula, many of you are the parents of my childhood friends. You worked hard to ensure that your kids had access to quality education, that they were intensely self-motivated, and that they were curious about the world outside of northwestern Michigan.
My own passion is working on building our multigenerational family farm and on attention to local issues, but when I hear about the diverse, interesting, and globally impactful work that your children are doing, I am awed. To imply that the paucity of young people in our community is a function of local land use policies is short-sighted at best and disingenuous at worst. Many of my childhood friends have pursued careers that require access to multiple Fortune 500 companies, an international airport, and/or a major research university — most reasonable people would agree that these are not issues that Peninsula Township can or should seek to tackle.
Talent attraction is a major challenge for the entire state, but Grand Traverse County’s regional efforts to develop a dense urban core while minimizing sprawl are considered by many economic developers around the state to be a leading example of how to attract talent and demographic diversity by balancing quality of life with economic opportunity for professionals who will drive regional prosperity.
Second, as one of my favorite mentors is fond of reminding me, “change is inevitable, but growth is optional.” I do not believe that many residents of this community are intractably opposed to change or growth. Since returning to the area six years ago, I have watched this community pull together to open an independent community school, to build a new library, and to contribute significantly to the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (GTRLC)’s Campaign for Generations.
While there may be disagreement about the look and feel of growth that residents in our community want to see, you are not a community that sits still and allows change to happen to you — you are proactive and are working hard to achieve your vision of the future. There may be competing visions of what the future should look like on Old Mission, but the insinuation that residents of our community are reactionaries living in a nostalgic daydream is not borne out by reality.
Finally, there is little risk of widespread housing development in the key viewsheds that make Peninsula Township the place that you love to call home. Since 1991, you have invested enthusiastically in the Township’s Puchase of Development Rights (PDR) program, which combined with the private efforts of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, has protected nearly 5,000 acres or 50 percent of the township’s ag-zoned land. Residents have more work to do if they want to take this project to its conclusion, but you have come a long way so far.
As a farmer, I would like to personally thank you for your contributions to this program and the GTRLC. My family relies on the farm as our primary source of income and wealth generation — we are not retired executives or lobbyists calling ourselves farmers when it is convenient to advance our preferred narrative. We work the land ourselves with a small team, and while we have made significant investments in processing and technology, we are still beholden to the vagaries of weather and agricultural markets.
The existence of the PDR program provided the working capital that our farm needed to diversify and grow in the early 2000’s. Recent work by the GTRLC has allowed my siblings and I to purchase our own farms by buying down the development rights on 150 acres of unprotected farmland.
Given the population density on Old Mission combined with the intense management required for all of our key local crops, we believe that our residential neighbors are generally helpful, accommodating, and enthusiastic supporters of our agricultural landscape. Your foresight in investing in these and other programs has been key to providing our generation with the tools necessary to build viable, standalone farm businesses on Old Mission, and we are deeply grateful for your support. Thank you.