Cherries aren’t the only crop that Old Mission Peninsula farmers are having trouble selling. Apples are also proving to be a tough sell this season. Just like with cherries, there are too many apples already in storage, and imports are playing a role, as well.
In the case of our family farm, Johnson Farms, my brothers are able to sell most of their newer varieties like Honeycrisp, but the “old school” apples like Spies are more difficult. However, if you want to make a great apple pie, cobbler or crisp, you can’t get any better than Spies. They’re tart enough to add sugar, they hold their shape well, and they don’t break down into mush like some other apples.
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My grandma, Stella Johnson, made amazing apple pies with Spies, and check out Reba Dohm’s Apple Crunch recipe here. I spent a lot of time at the Dohm house when I was a kid, and my friend Barb Dohm married Josh Wunsch, which is a good segue into a note that Isaiah Wunsch (their son and our township supervisor) recently sent me. It involves this year’s apple season, donations to Michigan food banks, and how you can help bring it all together.
30-Year Apple Sales Relationship Gone
Like other OMP farmers, Isaiah says their sixth-generation farm – Wunsch Farms/Third Coast Fruit Co. – is having a difficult time selling their apples. It doesn’t help that they just lost a 30-year sales relationship for more than 5000 bushels of apples.
So they decided to make lemonade (apple-aid?) out of the situation. They’ve created a way for friends and neighbors to buy apples directly from them, which in turn will help *them donate stranded apples to the food banks.
Isaiah says they’ve donated lots of cherries to the local food bank system during the past few years, and in the process, they’ve learned a lot about food insecurity in Michigan.
“While the loss of a market is always a challenge, it’s even harder for us to imagine letting all the apples that we’ve spent the past year growing go to waste, when one in nine Michiganders and one in eight Michigan kids are struggling with food insecurity,” he says. “We are asking for your help to turn this difficult situation into an opportunity.”
It costs a lot for farmers to buy young apple trees, plant them (especially the newer high-density plantings), wait a few years for them to mature, spray/mow/disc/trim the orchards, hire people to pick them, and truck the apples to processors and fresh fruit markets.
Because Wunsch Farms is losing income from growing apples that won’t be sold, it’s not possible for them to pay the additional costs of harvesting and storing them for donation without support.
And instead of trying to organize volunteers to pick, they’d like to keep their regular (much-valued) harvest crew employed, and they’re asking the community to help support them by buying fresh apples.
Help a Farmer and a Food Bank
Isaiah says they will sell apples by the half bushel (20 lbs.) at typical retail pricing ($35/half for Honeycrisps, and $25/half for all other varieties). For every half bushel that the community buys, Wunsch Farms will harvest and donate a half bushel of apples to the Michigan food bank system.
They’ll begin harvesting in early October, but they’re getting the word out now because they need to know whether this project will work or not. In order to make the project viable, they’ll need to pre-sell at least 1500 bushels to the community.
“Selling a large volume of apples direct to consumers instead of to wholesalers will generate enough value for our family farm to support the cost of harvesting, storing, and donating the apples that don’t have a home,” says Isaiah.
How to Order Apples
To help with this venture, hop over to their website and pre-purchase apples (here’s the direct link to buy them). They will then have the apples available for pickup at their farm market, 555 Wilson Road on the Old Mission Peninsula, from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., Friday, Saturday and Sunday from October 15 to November 19. Be sure and bring your purchase confirmation when you pick them up, and their staff will help you with your apples.
“We are grateful to those generous neighbors who sign up, share this opportunity, and help us to beat food insecurity in Michigan,” says Isaiah. “If we’re able to sell at least 1500 bushels, we’ll start pickup on October 15. If not, we’ll refund your donations.”
New Cider Mill
In other creative marketing news, the Wunsches are also opening a new cider mill at their Wilson Road farm. Wishful Cider Mill and U-Pick will have its grand opening next Friday, Sept. 22, and will be open Friday through Sunday, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., through much of November. Look for local cider, donuts, apples, pumpkins, popcorn, maple syrup, honey and more.
“Our goal is to open up our sixth generation farm to our Northern Michigan neighbors and visitors, and to help communicate both our agricultural heritage in the region and our vision for the future of Northern Michigan’s unique rural farming landscape,” they note.
Stop by and check it out at 555 Wilson Road, and don’t forget to order your apples, too.
A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers like the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and magazines like Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So of course, I started my own newspaper. Because the Gazette is mainly reader-supported, I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks my way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the Old Mission Peninsula. Check out the donation page here. Thank you so much for your support. -jb