FRUITS of the FAMILY TREE By James A. Curtis Photos courtesy of Thomas Mann, Great Lakes Energy and the Friske family
Richard Friske, Jr.
ichard Friske, Jr., nearly glides along his family’s orchard, bouncing between trees like a hummingbird as he examines perfect apple after perfect apple. Though Richard is nearing 60, his boyish enthusiasm is contagious while vivid leaves sail on the wind and foreshadow the end of the growing season. “I love the seasonal cycle, from blossom to fruit, and watching everything come to fruition,” said Friske. “God has given me a love for what I do, and a passion to continue it with my family.”
Four Generations On The Farm
Friske (pronounced Frisky) and his wife, Wendy, are the second-generation proprietors of Friske Orchards and Farm Market in Ellsworth. Richard’s parents immigrated to Michigan from Germany in 1952 and purchased the 240acre farm a decade later. Richard grew up with his brother and sister on the farm that has since grown to 350 acres, and together they carried on their parents’ tradition. In 1983, Richard and his brother assumed ownership of the operation—the same year Richard and Wendy were married. While Richard’s sister remains a significant part of market operations today, his brother eventually moved on from the farm. Richard and Wendy have gone on to run the farm for 35 years and raise three children—all who became involved in the farm and market operations which are now home to four generations of Friskes. 12 JANUARY 2019
Fruits Of Their Labor
Friske Orchards produces crops all growing-season long, including asparagus, strawberries, cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, plums, raspberries, and nectarines. Apples are by far the biggest crop, with 30 varieties growing on 130 acres. Most of the trees in the orchard have been replanted over the past 55 years, but some acres of trees more than 100 years old remain. The operation has grown steadily over the years. Between the orchard and the farm market, the businesses employ about 12 individuals year-round and up to 50 during peak season. A true family farm, Friske’s family comprises a large part of the full-time year-round staff. Much of the fruits of their labor are sold through local distributor Cherry Capital Foods at local and regional grocery stores and markets, as well as thousands of bushels of apples to Michigan schools every year. Friske also makes cider from their apples and sells about 30,000 gallons per year at the market and through distribution. The Friskes proudly call their farm market on Highway 31 “not your average fruit stand,” and rightfully so. The market features fresh produce, a bakery with an award-winning pie, breakfast and lunch café, and an old-fashioned general store. It also offers a seasonal, farm animal petting zoo, as well as a self-guided nature walk, live music, wagon rides, an outdoor playland, and they host educational group tours and school field trips during the harvest season.