Wish Farms celebrates its 100th anniversary

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The courage and hard work of four generations of Wishnatzki have transformed a handcart company into a multinational.

Success is the fruit of hard work and sacrifice. For Wish Farms, its success IS fruit… berries, of course.

The international grower and year-round marketer of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and pineberries celebrated its 100th anniversary not with fanfare and applause, but with a $10,000 charitable giving campaign last month titled “Pick- A-Berry, Pick-A-Cause.” Recipients included causes that align with the Wish Farms Family Foundation’s three pillars of giving (food insecurity, youth education, and community) and included Meals on Wheels of Tampa, the American Heart Association and the Florida Future Farmer’s of America Foundation.

Continuing its mission to give back, a theme embedded in its corporate culture, Wish Farms is also hosting PixieRock, its official 100th anniversary party, on Saturday November 12th. Artists ZZ Top, Bishop Briggs, Saint Motel and Blanco Brown will perform live at Wish Farms headquarters. Wish Farms is funding the event and all proceeds from ticket sales and sponsorships benefit the Wish Farms Family Foundation and other charities.

“PixieRock takes half a year to plan, but it’s worth it,” said public relations manager Nick Wishnatzki. “It helps fund our family foundation so we can support charitable causes throughout the year.”

Wish Farms traces its roots to 19-year-old Harris Wishnatzki, who emigrated to the United States from Ukraine in 1904. Arriving on Ellis Island with little but a strong work ethic, he began selling fruits and vegetables from a cart in the streets. from New York.

In 1922, his operations expanded into a handcart fleet after teaming up with fellow handcart peddler Daniel Nathel. The couple started Wishnatzki and Nathel, a wholesale fruit and vegetable business in the Washington Market in lower Manhattan. He was one of the nation’s first snowbirds, traveling to Florida during the winter months to be closer to production and the auction market.

He established a business operation in Plant City and eventually moved to Lakeland in 1937 to escape the freezing New York winters.

In 1936 his sons Joe and Lester became involved in the family business. The family patriarch died in 1955, leaving the future of the company in the hands of the second generation of Wishnatzki.

Joe’s son Gary (Nick’s father) started working for the company in 1974. His long list of accomplishments during his nearly 50 years in the business includes founding G&D Farms in 1987, the named after company founders Gershon Harris Wishnatzki and Daniel Nathel which became the largest strawberry farm in the United States. Under Gary’s leadership, the company added blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and pineberries to its portfolio. He became the first grower in Florida to offer organic strawberries at a commercial sale. He created the startup Harvest CROO Robotics to solve the global agricultural labor shortage through automation. In 2019, it began construction on its new headquarters south of I-4. His wife Therese works with the foundation’s charitable efforts and wrote Misty the Garden Pixie (more on that later.)

Nick Wishnatzki considers his father to be a patient and understanding leader who is a great listener. “He jokingly calls himself a benevolent dictator and honestly he’s an easy man to work for,” he said.

In 2001, the Wishnatzki and Nathel families agreed to split the business, with the Nathels keeping the wholesale business in New York and the Wishnatzki family keeping the growing and shipping operations in Florida. They renamed the company Wishnatzki Farms.

The name was still a mouthful. In 2009, Gary commissioned a survey to determine if customers recognized his brand in grocery stores. The results were alarming and became the catalyst to rebrand the company. Out of 400 people surveyed, only one person could name the brand without help and misspelled it.

The following year they took on the Wish Farms moniker and created its mascot Misty the Garden Pixie, who lives in the land of the berry plants and with a wave of her magic wand the berry plants bloom and her pixie dust has the power to make berries sweet.

Don’t be fooled though. It’s not pixie dust that brings the juicy berries to market, but a team of hundreds of workers across North and South America working hard to pick the berries, which begin to die as soon as they are removed from the vines and end up in the hands of consumers.

“We have a very dedicated operations and sales team who have to make split-second decisions on where the product goes while maintaining a cold chain to keep the berries preserved,” Nick said.

He said the company could not succeed without its dedicated employees. “We appreciate and respect each of them, whether they work on the farm or in the office,” he said.

The fourth generation of Wishnatzki is actively involved in the business. Gary’s son, Nick, and her husband, Stephen Cramer, joined the company in 2017 in public relations and accounting, respectively. Gary’s daughter, Elizabeth, works with the company’s marketing team while raising the fifth generation (Will and Joey) and her husband James is currently vice president of sales and marketing.

Even though the family spends a lot of time together at work, the close-knit group also spends a lot of time together at family dinners and on vacation. Does the topic of berries ever come into the conversation? Yeah. “Inevitably, it always comes back because we’re all so passionate about our work,” Wishnatzki said. “It’s part of our DNA.”

The fourth generation of Wishnatzki seems to have the same zealous energy for the company as the first. What would its founder say about today’s thriving business?

“I don’t think my great-grandfather could have imagined what his little handcart business would become,” Wishnazki said. This year, Wish Farms will ship 100 million pounds of strawberries, 35 million pounds of blueberries and 7 million pounds of raspberries and blackberries.

How does Wishnatzki see the business in a hundred years? “We stand on the shoulders of giants,” he said. “My great-grandfather was a kind and compassionate man and he laid the foundation for what we have become,” he said. “As long as we remain true to our values ​​and guiding principles, we will continue to thrive and grow.”

For more information about Wish Farms, visit www.wishfarms.com. For more information about PixieRock, visit www.pixierock.org.

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