By- Keith Loria
Wish Farms, a third-generation family-owned and operated produce company, dates back to 1922, when Harris Wishnatzki and Daniel Nathel, a couple of New York City pushcart peddlers, established Wishnatzki & Nathel, a wholesale business of fruits and vegetables.
Gary Wishnatzki, President & Owner, Wish Farms
“My grandfather was buying strawberries from Florida in the 1920s and came down in 1929 and set up shop in Plant City, FL. He was a major buyer of strawberries until he passed away in 1955, and then my father and uncle took over the company,” says Gary Wishnatzki, current president and owner, who took over the reins in 1974. “In 2001, Wishnatzki & Nathel split, with the Nathel family taking the New York wholesale business and I took the Florida growing and marketing company.”
In 1988, Wish Farms began growing strawberries itself, and entered the organic sector in 2005.
“There was a tremendous demand for organics at that point and there really was no commercial production of organic strawberries in Florida at all,” Wishnatzki says. “We started doing it in a greenhouse, and that was an expensive way to go and we couldn’t make the numbers work, so we moved it outside and grew in the ground a few years later.”
When it first started in organics, Wish Farms grew less than five acres, but in 2019 they are up to 200 organic acres and have plans to expand it even further next year. It also grows 400 acres of conventional and another 1,000 acres of conventional that it markets for outside growers.
“It’s very noticeable that consumers are demanding more and it doesn’t seem like it’s slowing down,” Wishnatzki says. “We’re filling a niche and many of our customers want them to provide both to them.”
Today, Wish Farms’ organic portfolio includes strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries (the latter two sourced from California and Mexico), all certified organic by the USDA National Organic Program and Americert International. All Wish Farms organic products are packed in a green label container and feature a USDA seal.
In Florida, Wishnatzki notes there is a tremendous amount of risk in growing organics, as well as additional cost, and the company has continually learned how to go about things the right way.
“We’ve learned a lot and applied some of those learnings to our conventional crop, discovering at times we thought we needed to be spraying a fungicide and maybe it wasn’t as beneficial as we thought it was, as we were seeing similar results in organics without any fungicide,” he says. “We’ve also found some fertilizers and things we used on organics that we found was more beneficial to conventional berries as well.”
One challenge with organics is that the production curve can be very “spikey” because of issues with rot and numbers can drop really quickly, or once things are corrected, it can spike up to 10 times what you had the prior week, so that makes things complicated on the marketing side.
“Production can really catch you off-guard,” Wishnatzki says.
Still, Wish Farms’ customers are showing an increasing demand for organics, so Wishnatzki still sees a lot of opportunities for growth in the years ahead.
“The majority of the time, we can’t supply their needs, and we have some existing customers of pretty good size telling us they want to grow with us more on organics,” he says.
An exciting behind-the-scenes happening is Wish Farms is building a new headquarters on 36 acres in Plant City, consolidating its packing and cooling facilities and offering new corporate offices.
“We will also have an organic blueberry farm for u-pick and showcase some other things we’re doing, and experiment with some organic blackberries,” Wishnatzki says. “That will be planted later this year and in production by 2021.”