Aug 5, 2022
MSU blueberry expert honored for dedication

Lauded for his eagerness to help growers and the knowledge that helped elevate the Michigan blueberry crop, Michigan State University (MSU) Extension small fruit educator Mark Longstroth was honored for his contributions over almost three decades.

The July 5 reception in Grand Junction, Michigan, was part of National Blueberry Month activities. The event was at True Blue Farm, operated by Dennis and Shelly Hartmann, who is chairwoman of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC).

Rex Schultz, president of the Michigan Blueberry Advisory Council (MBBAC), presented Longstroth with the inaugural Michigan Blueberry Service Award.

Michigan Sen. Aric Nesbitt, and Beth Griffin and Pauline Wendzel from the Michigan House of Representatives gave Longstroth a tribute plaque that saluted his 25 years of service to the Michigan blueberry industry.

Longstroth has advised fruit growers on pest control and cultural practices to maintain healthy and profitable fruit plantings. His most recent focus was on blueberries, cranberries and other small fruits. He has worked with grapes, apples, cherries, pears, plums and other tree fruits and has more than 40 years of experience in fruit production.

Known for conducting regional educational meetings for fruit growers in southwest Michigan, Longstroth has given numerous presentations on site selection, mineral nutrition, fertilization, cultural practices and insect and disease control for fruit crops. He has been invited to make presentations in other states, Canada, Chile and China. He also has done consulting work on blueberries in Canada and China.

Longstroth became the district Extension horticulture and marketing agent in southwest Michigan in 1993. In 2010, he became a small fruit educator. He has a broad knowledge of all the fruits produced in Michigan and the impact of Michigan weather on fruit.

After receiving a bachelor of science degree from Boise State University, he earned his master of science at the University of Idaho.

Before coming to Michigan, Longstroth was the orchard manager for the University of Idaho’s Parma Agricultural Experiment Station. He performed all the work involved in planting and maintaining orchards of apples, cherries and plums, making him familiar with all aspects of commercial fruit production for all fruit crops.

State-level kudos

The legislature tribute plaque, signed by Nesbitt, Griffin, Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garland Gilchrist III, recognized Longstroth for his service to the industry.

The plaque details his dedication to the industry:

“We deeply appreciate Mark’s work that has led to agricultural success for small fruit growers across southwest Michigan. In 1993, Mark began his years of service as a fruit educator, providing invaluable information on fruit production, pest and farm management for the small fruit, grape and berry growers.

“Southwest Michigan has since been heralded as the blueberry capital of the world, producing millions of pounds of blueberries each year. We commend Mark Longstroth for his essential part in this success and his dedication in keeping our southwest Michigan agricultural heritage alive and well over the many years.

“We are grateful for Mark’s work as an industry advisor and leader. Through his weekly and monthly meetings, and his numerous presentations on site selection, nutrition, fertilization, cultural practices and pest control for blueberries and other fruit. Mark Longstroth continues to be an essential partner to the Michigan Blueberry Advisory Committee. We look forward with the Michigan Blueberry Advisory Committee toward future successful blueberry seasons in southwest Michigan.”

Michigan legislators recognize retired Michigan State University small fruit educator Mark Longstroth (second from left) for his long service to the state’s blueberry crop. Several legislators presented a plaque celebrating his work in the industry, including Michigan Sen. Aric Nesbitt (from left) and Michigan Reps. Pauline Wendzel and Beth Griffin.

Industry appreciation

Schultz, who owns R&S Blueberries in Bangor, Michigan, shared the reasons Longstroth was selected to be the first honoree to receive the Michigan Blueberry Service Award.

“Over the years, when I’ve been involved in blueberries, Mark has always been there for everyone,” Schultz said. “He never hesitates to call us back if he doesn’t answer his phone directly. He’s always eager to come out, give us assistance and opinion on things, along with recommendations. We greatly appreciate that

“Over the years Mark has been a wealth of knowledge for me and my farm, and the industry, Schultz said. “Mark has had a tremendous database and he’s developed it for years. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve called up Mark and told him we need some stats on this and that. He’s found it, I don’t care how deep it is.

“It’s been a tremendous relief for us to know we can always count on Mark. We appreciate his service and everything that he does.”

Longstroth is still working with his successor, MSU Extension Blueberry and Small Farm Educator Cheyenne Sloan.

Humbled by awards

“This means an awful lot,” Longstroth told the audience. “I had a retirement party for Extension and that meant an awful lot, too. But getting an award from the industry is greatly, greatly heartwarming. I literally knew nothing about blueberries when I came to Michigan.”

Longstroth said he remembers driving through Covert, Michigan, wondering what are all of those bushes?

“I had the honor of being in one of the No. 1-producing counties (Van Buren) for blueberries,” he said. “I learned an awful lot. Fortunately, I knew how to grow apples and cherries. With blueberries, I was going, ‘Oh, that’s how they do it.’”

Industry promotions

Shelly Hartmann, who has been in leadership roles for the blueberry industries at the state and national levels, used the opportunity during National Blueberry Month to tout the popularity of the fruit.

“We are excited to team up with the nonprofit No Kid Hungry program,” Hartmann said. “The blueberry industry has donated over 70,000 pounds to make sure that children do not go hungry during the summer months. This is a difficult time for children to be able to participate in feeding programs. It’s a great opportunity for our industry.”

In addition, Hartmann said, when blueberry operations tag social media photos with @blueberries, another $1 per share (up to $50,000) is donated to the cause.

“Make sure any of your blueberries’ social media posts include the hashtag @blueberries,” she said.

“We are really excited,” Hartmann said. “We had the big kick-off in New York City. We created our own blueberry farm garden.”

On July 1, the Times Square marquee lit up with blueberries and “Grab a Boost of Blue.”

A toolkit for the promotion is on the council’s website (ushbc.blueberry.org).

— Gary Pullano, FGN Senior Correspondent

Photo: Michigan Blueberry Advisory Council members present Michigan State University’s Mark Longstroth (third from right) with the inaugural Michigan Blueberry Service Award. Council members Chad Reenders (from left), Kelley Reenders, Rex Schultz, Jennifer Spears and Grace Norris present the award July 5. Photos: Gary Pullano




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