Aug 28, 2014
Young grower saluted for innovation

The enthusiasm Kristin (Fritz) Kubiszak shows in leading the next generation of family farmers to new heights is evident in the way she goes about her business.

Kubiszak, part of the Brookside Farms’ operation based near Paw Paw, Michigan, greeted customers with a welcoming demeanor on a Sunday afternoon at a busy retail outlet adjoining blueberry fields that include 80 u-pick acres in the midst of a bountiful Michigan harvest.

“I feel people are more and more removed from family farms and what they’re all about,” she said. “There’s a disconnect on the part of people who don’t know where their food comes from, besides the grocery store. It excites me to explain how blueberries are grown. I love working in our farm market and having that face-to-face contact.”

Kubiszak was honored in late July in Washington, D.C., by the White House and USDA. She was among 15 new and beginning ranchers and farmers who were national honorees in the “Champions of Change” program. The group was honored for taking innovative approaches to American farming and ranching.

Attending a two-day Future of American Agriculture conference that included speaker panels, an award ceremony and tours, Kubiszak shared her views on educating the public about the importance of agriculture and family farms.

The honorees were congratulated by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and recognized at a ceremony in the White House by Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden and Cecilia Munoz, the director of the Domestic Policy Council. They were given a tour of the First Lady’s Garden at the White House by Sam Kass, who is President Barack Obama’s senior adviser for nutrition policy and the executive director of Let’s Move.

“It was a true privilege to represent the blueberry industry as a Champion of Change. Since we grow blueberries that are known for their great flavor and incredible health attributes, I was especially pleased to learn firsthand about some of the efforts by the first lady to encourage children to eat a healthy, brighter array of fresh fruits and vegetables,” Kubiszak said. “It was great to share the story of our family blueberry farm. It has always been a passion of mine to educate others about what we do, and this was another great opportunity.”

Kubiszak is a member of the sixth generation of southwest Michigan’s Fritz family, which goes back nearly 140 years. The original Fritz family farm was a dairy operation. In 1953, Kubiszak’s grandfather George Fritz Sr. planted his first blueberry bush. The Fritz family continues to grow and pack blueberries for widespread distribution through the Michigan Blueberry Grower (MBG) Marketing Cooperative-The Blueberry People.

Brothers George Fritz Jr. and William Fritz, Kubiszak’s father, have brought their children into the fold as well. All berries not sold through Brookside Farms’ three retail outlets are sold commercially through the Naturipe Farm label. The home farm has 350 acres planted with blueberries and they also custom pick and pack 500 acres in the Holland/Muskegon area. In 2014, Brookside Farms picked more than 4.2 million pounds of fresh blueberries, processed a half million pounds and hosted u-pick customers who picked another 100,000 pounds.

Nominated for the national recognition by MBG and the office of U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Kubiszak obtained her bachelor’s degree in social work from Cornerstone University. She sits on the board of directors for the Van Buren County Farm Bureau as the promotion and education chair, where she educates others about Michigan agriculture and the impact on communities. Her volunteer efforts include visiting schools and appearing at the county’s youth fair to share her knowledge of agriculture, along with other youth and consumer education programs.

“Kristin is another member of the Fritz family farming operation that makes us proud that they are part of our MBG and Naturipe families,” said Bob Hawk, president and CEO of MBG Marketing.

Kubiszak is the retail store manager for Brookside Farms’ Paw Paw location, as well as overseeing outlets in Gobles and Martin. The Paw Paw site has a casual restaurant feel with a full bakery and ice cream offerings, along with 80 acres of u-pick blueberries.

Her husband, Tyler, who also works on the farm, and their young daughter are familiar faces on the premises. It’s a role Kubiszak said she embraced, as others in the family found elements of the business in which they fit best.

“There’s a niche for everyone to fit in, and I like the retail store,” she said. “Between my dad and uncle, there are five of their kids who all decided to come back to the farm.”

She said working with family members “is the biggest blessing. We love working together. It’s really rare families really treasure working together. Each of us likes having our own job on the farm and that works really nicely. Each of us enjoys the responsibility that goes with it. It is hard sometimes. We all live within a few miles. The benefits outweigh anything negative about it.”

Kubiszak said George and Bill Fritz were joined by their children earlier this year as partners in Brookside Farms.

She said a dominant topic during her Washington visit was a concern for carrying on the farming tradition.

“They said the average age of farmers is in their late 50s,” she said. “They’re trying to push programs on to us to get new people to come into it. There are less and less people growing fruit and more coming into the world that need to be fed.

“I hope more people get involved,” she said. “We’re doing our part.”

Gary Pullano

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