Dec 7, 2012
Michigan hort society hands out awards

The Michigan State Horticultural Society handed out two Distinguished Service Awards during the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable & Farm Market EXPO in December. The awards went to Al and Joe Dietrich and Earl Peterson.

Al, Joe Dietrich

The Dietrich family settled 80 acres in Conklin, Mich., in 1853. Today, Joe and Al Dietrich represent the fifth generation of the family to own the now 1,000-acre farm, in partnership with their sons, Ryan and Daniel.

The Dietrich operation began as a traditional farm, and gradually transitioned to a fruit farm. In 1928, after returning from a trip to California, Aloys Dietrich built one of the first fruit graders in the Ridge area. He hand-lathed fence posts to make the pulleys. In the 1930s, with the success of his grader, Aloys started to plant more orchards.

In the 1950s, his sons Ray and Leo joined him. They purchased their first commercial grader in 1955. A larger apple grader was installed in the 1970s. As the farm grew, more properties were added. A new packing facility was constructed, and a four-lane grader was purchased in 2004. The family built a controlled atmosphere apple storage in 1969. They now have the capacity to store 800,000 bushels of apples each year. Riveridge Produce brokers the farm’s apple crop.
In the 1960s, Ray and Leo purchased one of the first cherry shakers in the state. They would start in southern Michigan and custom-shake cherries all the way up to Traverse City. In the 1980s, Joe and Al grew pickles. In the 1990s, they planted asparagus. They now pack asparagus for growers from Oceana County, as well as other growers around the state. Currently, Dan and Ryan have started to grow row crops as a means of diversification.

The Dietrichs employ mainly Hispanic laborers. Many of them hold management positions on the farm. The relationship between the family and the employees is the key to the success of the business.

Joe and his wife Kathy have three children. He is currently on the board of the MACMA apple committee, and a director of Cherry Growers Inc. Kathy manages the accounts payable and works as a dental hygienist. Their son Ryan graduated from Michigan State University and is now a partner on the farm.
Al and his wife Helen have six children and three grandchildren. Al is a past president of the MACMA apple committee. He served on the Michigan Apple Committee and is a member of the U.S. Apple Association. Helen chairs the Farm Bureau Ag Labor Committee, represents migrant workers on several committees and is a minority adviser to the Ottawa County Farm Service Agency board. She also manages payroll for the farm. Their son Daniel, his wife Ashley and their children represent the sixth and seventh generations on the farm.

Earl Peterson

Leroy Peterson’s son Earl was born on the family fruit farm. He was taught the values of hard work and selling the product you raised. After graduating from high school in 1965, Earl left the farm and went on to college. He received his bachelor of arts in 1969, and a master’s degree from Central Michigan in 1979. During this time he met his wife, Linda, and they both were teaching at Hart Public Schools.

In 1971, he and Linda purchased their first farm as a summertime occupation. He left his job as a principal for Hart Public Schools in 1979, to farm full-time. The Peterson family is now farming more than 2,500 acres, mainly tart cherries and peaches.

A major transition took place in 1984, when Earl started processing fruit for his farm and local growers. The family business, Peterson Farms, now has three processing facilities in Oceana County. The crops they process include tart cherries, apples, sweet cherries, blueberries and peaches.

The family business expanded over the years. In 1989, the Petersons started Cherry Technologies Inc. with Robert Nedow. In 1993, it was Oceana County Freezer Storage Inc., which has a capacity to freeze and store 180 million pounds of product. They also have a poly-bagging operation. Peterson Farms Trucking was started in 1995. Oceana Technologies, a microbiological testing facility, started in 1998. In 2004, Peterson Farms Fresh Inc. started specializing in fresh-cut fruit, particularly apples. More than 500 people are employed with Peterson Farms and its affiliates.

Peterson Farms is a family business. Linda is the chief financial officer. Son Aaron is president and CEO. Aaron and his wife Jenny have two children. Daughter Sarah Schlukebir is vice president of sales and marketing. Sarah and her husband Eric have two daughters. Son Mark, vice president of operations, is married to Gabriela, and they have three children.

Earl is a member of the Cherry Industry Administrative Board, CherrCo, the Cherry Marketing Institute and the Michigan Cherry Marketing Committee. He received the Cherry Industry Person of the Year Award in 1986, was named Outstanding Cooperator of Oceana Soil and Water Conservation District in 1989, and won the Oceana County Ground Stewardship Award in 2004.

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