The Wittenbach Family
Years in Business: 45
Family: wife Linda, sons Mike and Dave, daughters Christine and Kendra, and 11 grandchildren
Memberships and Organizations: Michigan Apple Committee (1999-2005, chairman in 1998-99), Michigan State Horticulture Society (6 years, president in 1982), U.S. Apple Association (8 years on Board of Trustees and chairman 2001-02), International Fruit Tree Association (2nd 3-year term on Board of Directors) and Belding Fruit Storage and Belleharvest sales for 35 years.
Honors: 1988 Distinguished Service Award from the Michigan State Horticulture Society, 1999 Apple Grower of the Year from the American Fruit Grower Magazine, 2003 Apple Person of the Year from The Packer and 2003 Fruit Man of the Year from the Michigan Association of Pomester Clubs.
History: The family farm was started in 1900 by Ed’s grandfather, Fredrick Wittenbach. It began as a dairy farm, with a small apple orchard. After receiving his horticulture degree from Michigan State University, Ed returned to the farm and took over the family business. He decided to get out of cattle and focus on apples. Ed’s vision paid off. His orchard has blossomed to 225 acres and continues to be a profitable family-run business. Today he and his son, Mike, run the farm together. Ed looks forward to retirement and handing the family business down to the next generation.
What’s new: Ed and Mike are part of a 45-member group of cooperative growers called the Next Big Thing (NBT). The NBT was formed to implement a new apple variety called MN1914 discovered by the University of Minnesota. The NBT, located in Lake City, Minn. at the Pepin Heights Orchards, is designed and dedicated to finding new apple varieties, including Honeycrisp, and allowing a select number of growers throughout the globe the rights to produce experimental varieties. Ed and his son have had about 20 trees of the MN 1914 for five years.
The Wittenbachs replace about 10 percent of their orchard each year to keep pace with changing consumer and market demands.
Ed continues to embrace the challenges of the apple industry. His travels half-way across the world to parts of China, South Korea and Europe to understand foreign markets, involvement with the NBT, packaging, sales and various organizations all reflect his desire to gain knowledge and focus on the future of the industry.
“The fruit industry keeps you humble because there’s a new challenge every day. Variety and vision are very important in the industry. The market today is more concerned with the quality and taste of the apples, than a small difference in price. You have to be willing to change or you won’t be able to carry success into future generations.”