TRAVERSE CITY — Northern Michigan sees its share of migrant workers who come here to work the annual fruit harvests, but it’s perhaps not so common to see homegrown farm kids head overseas to work in places as far away as New Zealand.
That’s where sixth-generation cherry and apple farmer Adele Wunsch headed last winter.
“I had just graduated from Michigan State University in December of 2012, and wanted to get away for the winter. I wanted to go someplace warm,” Wunsch said.
Her farm family connections led Wunsch to Nikki Rothwell, district horticulturist and Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center Coordinator, who led a group of young farmers on a trip to New Zealand the previous winter. Rothwell shared her list of contacts with Wunsch, who then secured a job as a farm laborer with Alex and Caroline Peckham for the 2013 apple harvest in New Zealand.
“I was looking through the contacts that Nikki had, and I saw that the Peckhams had an apple farm and that they produced cider, which I was interested in learning about,” Wunsch said. “Everywhere else in the world if they say ‘cider’ they mean alcoholic cider.”
Wunsch studied abroad in Argentina during her senior year of high school and met and made several friends from New Zealand.
“New Zealand has an interesting agriculture culture,” Wunsch said. “While there’s a lot of acreage devoted to farming, the country has a very small population.”
The majority New Zealand’s population lives in urban areas within its North Island. The sparse density makes it difficult for farmers to find labor. So they look to young foreigners like Wunsch for help.
Minimum wage in New Zealand is $13.50 an hour, equivalent to $10 to $11 in the U.S. Aside from agricultural jobs, many young travelers work in youth hostels in exchange for a place to stay for free. Wunsch said room and board typically is not included with the jobs.
“I was really lucky because I had accommodations,” she said. “I stayed in a guest house on the Peckham’s property.”
Before starting her seasonal employment in March, Wunsch had a month to backpack around the north and south islands. Once she hired on at the Peckhams’ she had little time for traveling.
Wunsch said her job was to do whatever needed to be done on the farm. She picked fruit and helped with sorting and pressing apples, moved hoses, cleaned tanks and filled kegs with cider.
The work didn’t bother her a bit.
“It was nice to be back on a farm again,” she said.
Wunsch is back in Traverse City, ready and willing to help out on her own family farm. In the fall, she plans a trip to Germany for more explorations.