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An Apple Grower's Daughter Returns to the Orchard

Growing up, I can remember my mom telling me, “You can make plans every day, but they usually don’t turn out the way you imagine”. It always reminded me of the story she shared about her childhood. In her younger years she was certain she would never marry a farmer, she even swore on it. In 1983, she did just that.

I should have learned from that alone but I never did, instead I swore I would never work on our family farm. It was probably during one of those moments when my dad had me picking up drops or piling brush in the middle of winter.

So instead, I went on to get my bachelors degree at Western Michigan University and had dreams of becoming a therapist. I started out working in foster care and then transitioned to the schools. Still it wasn’t what I imagined for myself, I was missing something. 

A year ago, I made plans to travel back to Africa to visit a nonprofit that empowers women in poverty. My itinerary had me staying for only 10 days but the opportunity arose to extend my trip and I ended up staying a month. That meant I wouldn’t have a job when I returned home and for once in my life, I didn’t have a plan. Nonetheless, I felt that it was all for a bigger purpose.  

When I got home, I knew things were going to look different if I planned to continue to volunteer with the nonprofit. I would need to find a new job and live a little simpler. My dad mentioned coming back to the farm. In that moment, I had to laugh at my 13-year-old self because of my vow of not working on the farm. I never imagined turning in the business casual for blue jeans and t-shirt. 

Instead of working for my dad, I took a job that would allow me to work with fruit growers on the ridge. It was a little out of my comfort zone but it brought me back to my roots. Back to the place I call home. 

My job was to identify pests and diseases that affect crops for the fruit growers. The only thing familiar about this job was the fruit that I would be working with everyday, the Michigan Apple. I did not major in Agronomy or Entomology; I’m a social worker. I majored in the science of emotions and how they make you feel.

During my first week, I started to hear things like pheromones, mating disruption, and integrated pest management, all of which left me baffled. I spent more time wondering if there would be bagels at the office than I did researching the degree-days it would take before Codling Moth took flight. When harvest arrived, I got to see all our hard work pay off. I was completely hooked on this new venture, to the point where I brought up apples in most conversations. 

Sure, I wasn’t an actual apple farmer. But, I was learning a whole new industry that made me appreciate the intricate details that make up the fine art of agriculture. I gained a whole new respect for the American farmer and the professionals they work with everyday. 

It was a humbling realization when I figured out this was exactly what I had been missing in my life. My family has been farming the same fields for over a hundred years; I want to be part of that tradition. I didn’t get to where I am today by following the guidelines or by making plans for myself. This happened by just letting go and seeing where your path takes you.  

Angie Sommers is currently employed at Wilbur-Ellis Company in the Agribusiness division. She graduated from Western Michigan University and has spent time in East Africa working with a nonprofit that empowers women in poverty. Angela grew up in West Michigan on a five-generation apple and cherry farm. She still resides in West Michigan and enjoys working in the apple industry, while also volunteering with Shining A Light nonprofit.