FRANKFORT — Two things make Cheryl Kobernik uniquely qualified for her position on a state steering committee.
Kobernik has a voice and she knows how to use it.
The co-owner of North Star Organics in Frankfort, Kobernik is one of four members of the Rural America Fund 2020. According to a release from the organization, the committee was recently formed “to give a greater voice to Michigan’s struggling agricultural community” and call attention to “the negative impacts of President (Donald) Trump’s policies in rural America.”
Kobernik and her husband, Alan, own and operate North Star Organics for the last 35 years. The 40-acre cherry farm has been certified organic for the last 21.
A master social worker by profession, Kobernik said she’s semi-retired after more than a dozen years at Centra Wellness Network, a mental health services provider in Benzie and Manistee counties. Kobernik is currently advising Northeast Community Mental Health in Alpena.
“I’m an advocate through and through,” she said, repeating a phrase her husband frequently uses. “I have that same passion for agriculture.
“If I can lend my voice toward advocating, not just for agriculture, but rural America, I’m honored to do that.”
Diane Byrum, who had a coordinating role and accepted recommendations for the committee, said Kobernik’s advocacy made her selection an easy one. Byrum added Kobernik has served on other statewide organizations, including chairing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency State Committee from 2010-2017.
“That’s at the heart of the committee and what we’re after: People who have a passion to speak up on issues that are important in their communities,” Byrum said.
Cheryl and Alan Kobernik made themselves part of the agricultural community when they purchased a 40-acre cherry farm from Don Nugent.
“We’re a very small, family farm,” she joked, adding the farm is “kind an an anomaly” because it never expanded past the 40 acres. “We bought it on purpose; we didn’t inherit it.”
Kobernik said 95 percent of North Star Organics are tart cherries, which are turned into individually quick frozen (IQF) cherries. She said about 2,000 people will go through the farm in 10 days and ‘You Pick’ the fruit before a shaking crew finishes the harvest.
Since the majority of North Bay are tart cherries, Kobernik is familiar with challenges facing American fruit farmers. Kobernik said she and the committee are fully-versed on cherries subsidized by Turkey being ‘dumped’ on U.S. markets.
“The current administration is not going giving us a level playing field,” she said.
The Rural America Fund 2020 steering committee has gathered twice remotely and plans to meet every couple of weeks. Joining Kobernik on the panel are Tim Boring, a sixth-generation cash crop farmer in mid-Michigan; Howard Wetter, a former member of the Michigan House of Representatives who owns a milk hauling business and Christine White, the former deputy director of policy for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and the State Executive Director of the Farm Service Agency.
“It’s a good group,” Kobernik said. “It’s a group that speaks to the misguided policies.”
Kobernik said this is a critical time to speak out for agriculture as farm foreclosures continue to increase.
“You can preserve peaches, you can’t preserve farmers,” she said.