In 2019, Attia Qureshi started to feel something was missing from Wunsch Farms, her cherry orchard located north of Traverse City on the Old Mission Peninsula.
As a child growing up in southern Michigan, she visited cider mills and cherry farms with her family, and she realized she wanted to bring the same personal feeling to her own orchards. So, Qureshi expanded Wunsch Farms to open a “U-pick” orchard where people could pick their own cherries during harvest season.
“I really love when people try our cherries for the first time and experience an amazing cherry right off the tree. Because a lot of people have never had that and often you can sometimes find really sad cherries at the grocery store,” said Qureshi, a lecturer in negotiations at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.
In 2018, Qureshi met her future husband, Isaiah Wunsch, whose family has owned Wunsch Farms since the 1900s. Wunsch introduced her to the cherry farming industry.
“I had no knowledge. Zero,” she said. “I’d never lived in a rural place, and I had no knowledge on farming.”
Over time, she came to understand the intricacies involved with running a cherry farm — on the business side and on the ground. She quickly familiarized herself with the environmental challenges: heavy rainfall, sudden freezes, deer and porcupines eating the fruit and trees. She also learned that apples grow best in sandy soil and cherries in rich soil.
With a few hundred acres on their farm, and hundreds more in neighboring farms with which they’ve partnered, Wunsch Farms grows high-density trees that can each yield thousands of cherries. The farm sells its fruit under the Third Coast Fruit Co., a wholesale brand for grocery stores across Michigan.
Throughout the year, Wunsch Farms has a handful of full-time workers. During the summer, they hire more than 150 people to hand pick each cherry. The cherry harvest starts in July and lasts through mid-August. The four- to six-week window gives them a short time frame to harvest their cherries.
In the fall, the cherry trees go dormant as the apple trees produce fruit from September to November. Each spring, they prune and plant new trees. Last year, Wunsch Farms planted 40,000 trees.
Following the success of the U-pick operation, Qureshi is in the process of pursuing another addition to Wunsch Farms: a cider mill.
“We do the cherry U-pick in the summer, but I would love to be able to have that fresh cider and doughnuts experience in the fall,” she said.
Creating a cider mill comes with a learning curve. Qureshi has learned how to operate a manual press to crush apples and to experiment with different types of apples and spices to see which combination makes the best cider.
“It is a really intense process to put all of it together. It’s like building a whole new business, so it takes a lot of time,” she said. “There are a lot of regulations you have to go through to make sure everything is safe and clean.”
While they haven’t officially decided on a name for the cider mill, Qureshi has an idea. Since Wunsch is German for wishful, she thinks naming the cider mill Wishful Farms would be fitting. She said she’s looking forward to having a place to bring people together to enjoy fresh fruit and cider.
“Getting fruit right off the tree is just an amazing experience. And so, when people experience that for the first time, they’re just blown away and astounded, and that’s really awesome to see,” Qureshi said.
What memorable moment in the workplace stands out?
When kids are sitting on their parents’ shoulders picking cherries out of the tree, dripping with juice and delighted by the taste and experience.
What can't you live without?
My family, and their support with the farm and my work!
Name your favorite spot on campus.
What inspires you?
My peers who are doing amazing work that creates lasting impact and innovation.
What are you currently reading?
Who had the greatest influence on your career path?
My mentor from MIT, John Richardson. He introduced me to negotiation and conflict resolution, and helped me get started in that field.
This article was written by Katie Kelton of the University Record.