Jan 12, 2021Hort society recognizes distinguished service
The Michigan State Horticultural Society honored peach breeder Paul Friday (pictured above) and west Michigan orchard grower Mike Wittenbach with its 2020 Distinguished Service Award during the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market EXPO that was held virtually this year.
According to a news release, Friday was raised on a fruit farm in southwest Michigan growing cherries, apples and peaches, but he preferred the peaches. He took that love of the fruit and turned it into a lifetime of records, awards and contributions to the peach industry. When Friday started breeding peaches, Michigan grew two main varieties, Red Haven and Red Skin. He recognized that there was an opportunity to expand the industry, so he started breeding peaches.
Due to his breeding work, Friday now holds 34 patents and one Guinness Book of World Records entry for heaviest peach. One of his varieties tended toward large peaches and one day he noticed an exceptionally large one. He called Guinness and it turned out he had a record. In addition to good size, Friday’s Flamin’ Fury peaches are known for their color, firm sweet fruit and high yields.
Friday has not kept his knowledge a secret, though. His is nationally known due to speaking around the country and service on local and national peach boards. He has served on the Michigan Peach Sponsors and the National Peach Council. The National Peach Council awarded him its Distinguished Service Award in 2010. He has spoken to farm market audiences locally at the Great Lakes Fruit Vegetable and Farm Market EXPO, where he had a trade show booth for decades. He has also spoken nationally from Idaho and Colorado to Pennsylvania and Alabama. He has made presentations internationally in Canada and Mexico.
Friday’s sense of humor has served him well in marketing his peaches. He enjoys the attention that humor can bring and he takes the opportunity to talk about his peaches. He has dedicated his life to improving the Michigan peach industry and the peach industry will always bear his stamp.
Friday was a longtime farm market columnist for Fruit Growers News.
“The Michigan State Horticultural Society is pleased to present the 2020 Distinguished Service Award to Paul Friday,” a news release stated.
Mike Wittenbach recognized
The Michigan State Horticultural Society honored west Michigan orchard grower Mike Wittenbach with its 2020 Distinguished Service Award.
Wittenbach is owner and managing member of Wittenbach Orchards LLC.
The foundation for Wittenbach Orchards was built when Wittenbach’s great grandfather moved from Switzerland to Michigan, married and purchased the original farmstead in 1899. His grandfather continued to milk cows and grow grain crops, but he also planted the first apple trees. In 1962, Mike’s dad, Ed, took over the farm management. With his wife, Linda, Ed sold the dairy herd, switched more acreage to row crops and focused on expanding the orchard. As the fourth generation, Mike has continued the orchard expansion and advancement.
Wittenbach spent two years away from the farm to earn a technological degree from Michigan State University (MSU) and gain experience in Washington state working for the late Doyle Fleming.
He married his high school sweetheart, Marnie, in 1989, and they have three children. The oldest, Elizabeth, farms with her dad and grandfather. Son, Tye, is also embracing his agricultural roots as he finishes his master’s degree in horticulture at MSU. The youngest, Victoria, is studying special education at Grand Valley State University.
Wittenbach has served as president of the Michigan State Horticulture Society and Michigan Pomesters and as chairman of the Michigan State Horticulture Trust Fund. Mike is a member of Belding Fruit Storage and Next Big Thing cooperatives and he serves on the board of directors for both organizations.
Wittenbach enjoys traveling the world for horticulture related activities through the International Fruit Tree Association and beyond. For leisure, he and Marnie also enjoy traveling, hiking and skiing in places such as Africa and New Zealand.