by: Carol Marshall
Farming in Manistee County is not just a job for the families who live and work here- it is part of their history and culture. Each individual farming family is unique in its own way, celebrating the traditions of ancestors through each crop they harvest and every cup of bottled cream. With the assorted cultural backgrounds-Polish, Scandinavian and German – just to name a few, our farming community possesses a variety of skills that result in expertly grown crops each and every season.
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In addition to the skills of our farmers, northern Michigan weather provides for a diverse growing season, kicking off with lush fields of asparagus in the spring. In fact, Michigan is the third largest producer of asparagus in the nation, helped by our temperatures and humidity. Many of our farmers grow delicious asparagus, but without a doubt, the Manistee County experts on asparagus would be the 1,400 acre Lutz Farm in Kaleva, now run by fourth generation owners Julie and Calvin Lutz. Dating back to the early 1890’s, the farm produces 750,000 pounds of fresh market asparagus each season. The Lutzes are also proud of the fact that they are part of the Farm to Institution Program, in which they deliver fresh produce to five local school districts. When visiting Manistee County in the spring, you will find many of the local grocers carrying “Lutz Farm Fresh Asparagus.”
As summer arrives, so does the bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables including peas, lettuce, strawberries, apples and apricots. They’re quickly followed in July by cherries, peaches and plums. In midsummer, you will find the plumpest tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries around, and just wait until you taste our sweet corn. Much of this bounty you can pick yourself at any one of the “U-Pick” farms lining the roads along Michigan Scenic Highway M-22 and the northern corridor of US-31 near Bear Lake.
If you have ventured into this area of Manistee County, there is no doubt that you have stopped at one of the Miller’s Markets. The Miller Brothers Farm has two markets, one located on M-22 and the other on US-31. Owners Gregg and Rob Miller, fourth generation farmers, began with a small strawberry patch. They now farm over 80 acres of strawberries, cherries, blueberries, peaches, apricots, apples, squash, tomatoes and pumpkins.
Lynn and Phil Miller operate the Miller’s Produce Market in Manistee where they sell not only produce from their own farm but offer market opportunities to other independent small farmers in the area. Their market is also home to gigantic pumpkins in the fall which the kids are always drawn to.
Chet and Bonnie Miller are the owners of Miller’s Northwood Market & Rock Shop, and Pierport Farms brand products. They feature locally grown produce and Michigan made products for their loyal customers, many of whom remember coming here with their grandparents. This quaint shop is home to locally made favorites including jams, jellies, juice and pies. The Market is a must-see when traveling north through Onekama to Arcadia.
As autumn arrives with its cool temperatures and vibrant colors, you can find pumpkins and squash – just in time for decorating for Halloween. And, the apples – oh, the varieties – honey crisp, golden delicious, Macintosh and so many others.
If you are looking for over a dozen varieties of apples, look no further than the Apple Valley Orchards in Bear Lake. You will also find sweet and sour cherries, peaches and plums, and owner David Meister provides U-Cut Christmas trees as well.
When you are searching for that special holiday pie, try Brown’s Honey in Onekama where Bob and Laurie Brown offer organic tart cherries, apples and homemade pies. They also provide local Maple Syrup, honey and bee products. At Brown’s Orchard in Bear Lake, this 450 acre farm not only produces strawberries, cherries, apples, peaches and pears, but you can find onions, cabbage, carrots, broccoli, peppers and beets. Merle and Bette Brown and their family have been farming for the last 43 years.
The farms and the dedicated families who cultivate the land that have been mentioned only touch on a select few in Manistee County. There are many others, rich with history and superb products. One of the most recognizable names is the Cream Cup Dairy, owned by David and Cheryl Miller. In business for over 20 years, the goal of this hard working Mennonite couple was to raise their family in a wholesome atmosphere with a dedicated work ethic. They successfully reached their goal with their seven children, who work on the farm producing the freshest cream line of glass-bottled non-homogenized, whole milk, 2% and chocolate milk and cream, plus butter, cheese and eggs. You can purchase their products right at their dairy or at 17 of the grocery stores and markets in Manistee County. They will even deliver to your door!
Another family owned farm, the Grossnickle farm, on 200 acres in Kaleva, has a fresh selection of strawberries, pickles, asparagus and corn. Their produce is grown from their own seeds from their greenhouse. Homemade jams, pickled asparagus and local Maple Syrup are also available at the market right at this historic farm. The Grossnickle farm prides itself on being the first in the State of Michigan to pass the State Food Assessment with the FDA.
Near Bear Lake you will find Ware Farms, which is an experience that the entire family will certainly enjoy. They are committed to the use of ecologically sound practices to produce fresh certified organic products. They offer a great selection of U-Pick options right on the farm, a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and can be found with their fresh produce at the Onekama Farmers Market throughout the season.
Some farmers in Manistee County are new to the land. For instance, Cliff Boomer and a group of environmentally conscious investors developed the Douglas Valley Vineyard Community in Manistee. Here you will find organically grown fruit as well as 8,000 grape vines which are harvested to produce wine and hard cider. A tasting room is open on the property for your enjoyment, and be sure to check the entertainment schedule as they frequently host live music throughout the summer. Douglas Valley is also well-known for its breathtaking views of the hilly countryside, Bar Lake and Lake Michigan.
Most of the farmers listed here and the many others in Manistee County sell their fruit, produce and other home-made products at the farmers markets throughout the growing season. The Manistee Community Kitchen hosts a wonderful open air market every Saturday from May-October rain or shine in downtown Manistee. It hosts 25 local farmers with quality local produce, breads and baked goods plus craftspeople, entertainment and more! In addition to this market there are others that take place throughout the season in a variety of our communities. For more information about these markets, visit our events calendar at www.VisitManisteeCounty.com, or contact the Visitors Bureau for more information at 877.626.4783