2012 Distinguished Service Award

Alvin and Joseph Dietrich

In 1853 the Dietrich family settled 80 acres in Conklin Michigan. 159 years later, Joe and Al Dietrich are the 5th generation to own the now 1,000-acre farm in partnership with their sons, Ryan and Daniel. All of whom are looking forward to keeping up the tradition of the family farm.

The Dietrich family farm began as a traditional farm and gradually transitioned to a fruit farm. In 1928, after returning from a trip to California, Aloys Dietrich built one of the first fruit graders in the ridge area. He hand lathed fence posts to make the pulleys. In the 1930’s with the success of his grader, Aloys started to plant more orchards. In the 1950’s, his sons Ray and Leo, joined their father with the success of growing apples. They purchased their first commercial grader in 1955. A larger apple grader was installed in the 1970’s. As the farm grew more properties were added and a new packing facility was constructed, and a four lane grader was purchased in 2004. The family built a CA apple storage in 1969. They now have the capacity to store 800,000 bu of apples each year. Riveridge Produce brokers the farms apple crop.

In the 1960’s Ray and Leo purchased one of the first cherry shakers in the state. They would start in southern Michigan and custom shake cherries all the way up to Traverse City. In the 1980’s Joe and Al grew pickles. In the 1990’s they planted asparagus. They now pack asparagus for growers from Oceana County as well as other growers around the state. Currently, Dan and Ryan have started to grow row crops as a means of diversification.

Presently, the Dietrich’s employ mainly Hispanic laborers. Many of them now hold management positions on the farm. The relationship between the family and the employees is the key to the success of the business.

Joe and his wife Kathy have three children. He is currently on the board of MACMA Apple committee, and a director of Cherry Growers Inc. Kathy manages the accounts payable and works as a dental hygienist. Their son Ryan graduated from Michigan State University and is now a partner on the farm as the sixth generation. Joe serves on the pastoral council and Kathy is a member of the finance council at St. Joseph Church.

Al and his wife Helen have six children and three grandchildren. Al is a past president of MACMA Apple committee. He served on the Michigan Apple Committee and is a member of U.S. Apple. Helen chairs the Farm Bureau Ag Labor Committee, and she represents migrant workers on several committees and a minority advisor to the Ottawa County Farm Service Agency board. Helen manages payroll for the farm. Son, Daniel, wife Ashley and children are the sixth and seventh generations on the farm. We appreciate all that our forbearers have provided for us, and by the grace of God, our wish is to leave the land to future generations.

Michigan State Horticultural Society is pleased to present the Distinguished Service Award to Al and Joe Dietrich.

Earl Peterson

Leroy Peterson’s son Earl Peterson was born on the family fruit farm. He was taught the values of hard work and selling the product you raised. After high school graduation in 1965, Earl left the farm and went on to college. He received his BA of Arts in 1969 and a Masters from Central Michigan in 1979. During this time he met his wife Linda and they both were teaching at Hart Public Schools.

In 1971, he and Linda purchased their first farm as a summer time occupation. Eventually, he left his principals job at Hart Public Schools in 1979, to farm full time. The Peterson family is now farming over 2500 acres consisting mainly of tart cherries and peaches.

A major transition took place in 1984 when Earl started processing fruit for his farm and local growers. The family business, Peterson Farms, now has three processing facilities in the Oceana county. The crops they process are tart cherries, apples, sweet cherries, blueberries, peaches, juice, concentrate and others.

Because of the growth of the business other companies have been started by the Peterson family. In 1989, Cherry Technologies Inc, with Robert Nedow. In 1993, Oceana County Freezer Storage Inc, which has a capacity to freeze and store 180 million pounds of product. They also have a poly bagging operation. Peterson Farms Trucking was started in 1995, Oceana Technologies started in 1998, which is a microbiological testing facility. In 2004, Peterson Farms Fresh Inc, started specializing in fresh cut fruit particularly apples. Over 500 people are employed with Peterson Farms and affiliates.

Peterson Farms, is a family business, the chief financial officer is wife Linda. President and CEO is son, Aaron who is married to Jenny and they have two children. Daughter, Sarah Schlukebir, is Vice President of Sales and Marketing. She is married to Eric and they have two daughters. Son, Mark is Vice President of Operations and he is married to Gabriela and they have three children.

Some of the committees Earl has been involved with are Cherry Industry Administrative Board and Past Chairman. CherrCo Member and Past Chairman. Cherry Marketing Institute. Michigan Cherry Marketing Committee Past Chairman. He has received Cherry Industry Person of the Year Award 1986, Outstanding Cooperator of Oceana Soil and Water Conservation District 1989, and Oceana County Ground Stewardship Award 2004.

Earl enjoys family vacations, hunting, traveling, and reading good novels.

Michigan State Horticultural Society is pleased to present the Distinguished Service Award to Earl Peterson, Peterson Farms.

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7087 East Napier Ave.
Benton Harbor, Michigan 49022

Phone (269) 252-5461