LANSING — You can’t filter Cheryl Kobernik. Her passion for agriculture oozes through her skin, her words.
As a new ag commissioner for the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development, Kobernik plans to use these words to better inform the public on what agriculture’s doing — and what they’re going through.
“I am very shy,” Kobernik jokes. “We can be resilient, but I am tired of being resilient. I’d really like for my husband to have a new pickup (truck), or not even new, but he still has roll-down windows. It’s not that we can’t afford it; it’s just risky to take that chance. We’ll take that chance to pull out more orchard or add irrigation.”
Under the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, MCARD recommends and in some cases determines policy for Michigan food, agriculture and rural development.
An operator of North Star Organics in Frankfort, Kobernik is a first-generation organic cherry farmer. She joins MCARD commissioners Dru Montri of Ten Hens Farm, Charlie Meintz of Pleasant View Dairy Farm, Patricia Bergdahl of Bergdahl’s Inc., and Dr. Timothy Boring of Boring Farms. Her term ends Dec. 31, 2024.
“I never thought of myself as a commissioner,” Kobernik told Michigan Farm News. “It took me a while to even apply for the role, but I’m passionate about agriculture. What I tell people is that I’m not building a resume anymore, and I don’t care about my credit score, and I don’t do drama, and I tend to have less of a filter. There’s no time to waste. These issues need to be addressed.”
Kobernik grows tart and sweet cherries. She understands what modern-day tart cherry farmers experienced after the International Trade Commission ruled against the Michigan-made industry in 2020. The ITC determined that Turkey didn’t flood the U.S. market with a subsidized dried cherry product at less-than-fair value.
“People don’t understand how distorted it is,” Kobernik said. “The Turkish cherry imports are very disappointing — of how those decisions are being made. It impedes the success of cherry growers in these United States.”
Other issues Kobernik wants to address include mental health, farm bankruptcies, and the farm bill. Kobernik, a Benzie-Manistee County Farm Bureau member, also works for a community mental health agency.
“There are aspects of agriculture that require a partnership to address different issues,” Kobernik said. “We’re resilient, but we shouldn’t have to be so quite resilient. We want it where our kids can actually afford the option to continue on the farm.”
Michigan Farm Bureau's Government Relations Specialist Matt Kapp said the organization looks forward to working with Kobernik in her new role and is glad to see one Farm Bureau member succeeding another: Brian Pridgeon.
Pridgeon, a longtime Branch County Farm Bureau member, served four years on the Commission before his term concluding this past December. He raises hogs and 4,500 acres of corn, soybean and wheat alongside his father and brother.
“Brian vigorously represented and defended agriculture by asking tough questions and challenging the status quo,” Kapp said. “He was a leading voice in removing conformance to local zoning in both the site selection and farm market GAAMPs.
“He also was a great advocate for agriculture being a good neighbor to our non-farm neighbors. He was very balanced and fair. We'll miss him on the commission.”
Nicole Sevrey contributed to this story.