The Michigan State Horticultural Society gave out two Distinguished Service Awards and a Dedicated Service Award during the 2019 Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market EXPO Banquet on December 11. The awards were presented to Ed and Alicia Robinette, Jim Laubach and Sharri German, respectively.
Distinguished Service Award: Ed and Alicia Robinette
Edward J. Robinette II is the oldest of three brothers, representing the fourth generation to farm the family orchard in Grand Rapids, Michigan, now known as Robinette’s Apple Haus & Winery.
“Ed has been a leader in our industry for years,” said Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee. “He plays a major role.”
Ed grew up working with his grandfather, Edward, his father, James, and brothers Bill and John. He earned a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Michigan State University in 1985. Ed and Alicia married after she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at the University of Michigan.
After college, Ed came back to the family business and helped continue its growth as a farm market, u-pick, bakery and winery. He was joined by brothers Bill and John when they completed their educations at MSU. The brothers, their wives and children also help run the family farm.
Ed and Alicia have two grown sons, James II and Allan. Allan works at the farm full time, while Jim helps on key weekends, and both of their wives are involved when possible. Alicia joined full-time after the birth of son Allan, and she assumed management of the business side of the farm.
Ed was elected a trustee of Grand Rapids Township in 1996, and he has served as township clerk since 2012. He’s served on various industry boards and committees, including the Kent County Agricultural Preservation Board, Michigan Pomesters, Michigan Cider Task Force, Michigan Cider Makers Guild, Michigan Apple Committee, and U.S. Apple Association. He was the Michigan State Horticultural Society president in 2012, and he is currently chairman of the society’s trust committee. Ed and Alicia have served in children’s ministry at their church almost every Sunday for the last 20 years.
“I’m most proud of the fact that our family is still together,” Ed said. “It’s been an uphill climb at times, but we’re still doing what we love.”
Distinguished Service Award: Jim Laubach
Jim Laubach studied horticulture at Michigan State University in the late 1970s, where he met his future wife, Sally. After graduating in 1979, he moved back to the family farm in Benzie County, Michigan, and he and Sally got married.
Jim and Sally developed a small farm growing cherries, apples and asparagus. In 1985, they purchased an Integrated Pest Management business called HortSystems, and developed it into a thriving business — which they recently passed on to a new generation.
As an independent crop consultant for 35 years, Jim developed and implemented new pest management practices and collaborated on applied research projects with university faculty and industry stakeholders. The primary focus of his work was helping fruit growers in Northwest Michigan manage insect and disease pests in their orchards using IPM principles.
Jim also developed a network of weather monitoring stations for placement in orchards, which allowed for site-specific weather data for insect and disease models. This network was eventually used in a much larger weather monitoring system developed by MSU’s Enviroweather program, which is widely used by Michigan agriculture to help manage weather-related challenges.
Laubach has served on various industry boards and committees, including the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Foundation, Tart Cherry Integrated Orchard Management Project, Entomological Society of America, Integrated Fruit Systems Think Tank, National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants, Benzie Manistee Horticultural Society, Benzie Soil Conservation District and Benzie County Farm Bureau.
“It’s been a great pleasure getting to know farmers and visiting their farms,” Laubach said. “The same with extension people. I’ll always have fond memories of those relationships.”
Dedicated Service Award: Sharri German
A special Dedicated Service Award was given to Sharri German, who served as treasurer of the hort society for 30 years and as trade show manager of the Great Lakes EXPO for 19 years. German is retiring from both roles.
—by Matt Milkovich