The Michigan State Horticultural Society gave out two Distinguished Service Awards during the 2020 Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market EXPO. The awards were presented to Paul Friday and Mike Wittenbach.
Friday grew up on a fruit farm in Southwest Michigan growing cherries, apples and peaches. He took his love of peaches 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: Redhaven and Redskin. He recognized an opportunity to expand the industry, so he started breeding his own varieties.
Due to his breeding work, Friday now holds 34 patents and one Guinness Book of World Records entry for heaviest peach. In addition to good size, his Flamin’ Fury peaches are known for their color, firmness, sweetness and high yields.
Friday is nationally known, due to his speaking around the country and his service on local and national peach boards. He has been a member of the Michigan Peach Sponsors and the National Peach Council, which gave him its Distinguished Service Award in 2010.
Mike Wittenbach is owner and managing member of Wittenbach Orchards in Belding, Michigan.
The family orchard’s origins go back to 1899, when Wittenbach’s great-grandfather moved from Switzerland to Michigan and bought a farmstead. His grandfather continued to milk cows and grow grain crops, but he also planted the first apple trees. In 1962, his father, Ed, took over farm management. Ed and his wife, Linda, sold the dairy herd, switched more acreage to row crops and expanded the orchard. Now representing the fourth generation, Wittenbach continues to expand and advance the family business.
Wittenbach spent two years away from the farm, earning a technology degree from Michigan State University and working for the late Doyle Fleming in Washington state. He married his high school sweetheart, Marnie, in 1989, and they have three children. The oldest, Elizabeth, farms with her father and grandfather. His son, Tye, is finishing his master’s degree in horticulture at MSU. The youngest, Victoria, studies special education at Grand Valley State University.
Wittenbach served as president of the Michigan State Horticultural Society and Michigan Pomesters, and he served as chairman of the Michigan State Horticultural Trust Fund. He is a member of the Belding Fruit Storage and Next Big Thing cooperatives and serves on the board of directors for both organizations.
—by Matt Milkovich