Last year, Wunsch Farms on Old Mission Peninsula purchased the area’s first fresh cherry packing line. The machinery cost half a million dollars, but according to CEO Isaiah Wunsch, it is well on its way to delivering a return on investment in more ways than one.
“This packing line can help keep cherry farming up here more viable during these down cycles in the processing market. So, in the short term, we’re able to help address a crisis that growers are facing,” said Wunsch, a fourth-generation cherry farmer. “This is the fourth consecutive year where growers have earned less than the cost of production for processing cherries.”
The line is capable of sorting and packing approximately 25,000 pounds of fresh cherries per day. Some of that volume is grown on site at Wunsch Farm, but other cherries coming into the facility are from other local growers.
A year in, Wunsch says he has up to six local cherry farmers that now entrust Wunsch Farms to get their fresh cherries sorted, packaged, marketed, and delivered to market. Wunsch Farms charges for the services, but Wunsch says local growers are still able to profit from those crops.
Packing fresh cherries itself is nothing new for Wunsch Farms. While a majority of Traverse City’s cherry crops go into the processing market – either dried, turned into juice concentrate, made into pie filling or sold as frozen fruit – Wunsch says his family has been doing a small amount of fresh cherry packing since his grandparents were in charge.
In the past, the fresh cherries accounted for just a small part of the operation. The rest of the crop was carted out of town to be processed. It wasn’t that fresh cherries weren’t popular. Rather, the issue was that sorting and packing cherries to be sold fresh was a highly inefficient practice.