What’s Growing on I-4?
You may have noticed a few larger-than-life human billboards while driving on Interstate-4. On display in Plant City, FL, not far from Park Road Exit 22, these giant figures are tough to miss! With the construction of our new headquarters underway and our 100 year anniversary approaching, we took the opportunity to feature three long-time employees that made a berry big impact on Wish Farms. So big, in fact, that our tribute to them stands 22 feet tall! Plus, if they influence the construction beneath them like they do berry farming, we can trust that our new office will be nothing short of perfection!
One of the three giant billboards is 58-year Wish Farms veteran and strawberry enthusiast, Lonnie Gonzalez. The other two are Ralph Houston Sr. and Big Willie Jackson. View their stories here. Learn more about Lonnie’s story below, told by 3rd-generation owner Gary Wishnatzki. He sure is key to the Wish Farms family!
I started working full time in our family business in 1974. Lonnie was a produce veteran even back then. His career started when he was 18 in the early 1960’s. I feel like I followed in his footsteps.
My earliest memory of Lonnie was when I was a little boy. It was the winter and Lonnie was part of the crew that was hand folding and assembling strawberry boxes. The company did not pay on piece-rate back then, but Lonnie was fast and steady nonetheless. I remember my sister and I standing and watching the crew hard at it, trying to keep up with growers’ demand for empty boxes.
Lonnie is a fixture on the strawberry receiving dock, announcing the arrival of every load of berries with his patented “STRAWWWWWWBERRRRRRIEEEESSS” yell.
When I started working full-time Lonnie did almost every job in the packinghouse. You could find him on the cucumber grading line, pushing a hand truck, or unloading a grower truck, by hand.
Lonnie was really good with a hand truck and it took me some time to get up to his level of expertise. There was one strawberry season that I remember that the two of us hand trucked every single flat of strawberries for the entire season. Production was much lower in the 1970’s. It was nowhere near the millions of flats we do today, but I felt it was still quite an accomplishment.
In 2018, we celebrated Lonnie’s 58th year with the company. I am proud that he is still part of our team. We traded out the hand trucks for forklifts, long ago. Lonnie is a fixture on the strawberry receiving dock, announcing the arrival of every load of berries with his patented “STRAWWWWWWBERRRRRRIEEEESSS” yell.