I love traveling and meeting growers from across the country. The United States is full of many dedicated people who devote their lives to this profession. It humbles me when I walk the floor of any growing convention and listen to their stories.

While at the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo in Grand Rapids, Michigan, last month, there were several growers on the showroom floor or out and about in the downtown streets who shared antidotes about the life of growing with me.

For example, I just finished taking a couple of photos and some bites of a delicious Red Delicious. Headed toward the garbage bin, I bumped into an energetic lady by the name of Joan Runkel from Webberville, Michigan, near East Lansing. She was speeding through the trade show with a reusable bag hanging at her wrist filled with brochures and spec sheets. Runkel was about to throw some papers into the trash when she looked up and started a conversation.

“You can never get enough photos at these shows, huh?” she said full of sprite as she fiddled with her bag. We started talking and I learned she ran Runkel Orchards (www.runkelapple.com). I found out about the Runkel apple that comes from a vigorous round-topped, upright semi-dwarf tree of annual bearing habit. The fruit has a noticeable aroma with yellowish, cream-colored mildly sub-acid flesh that is both hard and juicy. The red skin is thin, tender, smooth, bright and waxen. It can be used for eating as well as baking, cooking, cider, wine or sauce making.

Runkel mentioned her farm is just more than 10 acres and she was definitely proud of crops and worked hard in promoting their orchard. I then realized there were many Joan Runkels in attendance at the show. Some have 10 acres, others have 400. Their goals aren’t necessarily toward expansion, but in consistency through providing the right products to their customers. And that’s why she was there in the first place.

It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle when you’re dealing with big producers. Don’t get me wrong – being a big player definitely has its advantages. They make the majority of the product for the end user, and provide a valuable service to our country and world.

However, it’s a pleasure to meet the grower/owner who puts in the sweat, blood and tears into their craft and strives to improve on their labor of love. Here’s to you, Joan, and many others like you. Cheers!