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Providence Organic Farm: A Story of Faith, Family and a Love of Fresh, Organic Food

Julia Child once said: “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” When it comes to fresh food, we have an abundance of riches here in northern Michigan.

Much of that food is produced on small, family run farms using organic and sustainable farming techniques. All year round we enjoy perusing and purchasing the fresh produce available at the Sara Hardy Famers Market in Traverse City.

There’s no doubt about it – the fresher the food, the better the meal (and the better you feel about eating it).

Last summer we decided to make sure that we always had a bounty of fresh food on hand by participating in the northwest Michigan farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share program. Here’s how it works: Each spring members sign up for a share of a participating farm’s harvest during the summer growing season. Members then receive boxes brimming with freshly harvested farm produce every week.

There are eight northwest Michigan CSA Farms (you can learn more about the farms and CSA here). Last summer we bought our “share” from Providence Organic Farm, a small farm owned and operated by Ryan and Andrea Romeyn that is located at the northern tip of Torch Lake in Central Lake – halfway between Traverse City and Petoskey.

It was always a delight to pick up our box on Saturday mornings. Providence Farm’s CSA program features over 200 varieties of in-season vegetables in quantities of about 5 pounds the first week to over 20 pounds by late summer. The variety of vegetables we received – some of which we had never tried before – allowed us to be creative and cook with the seasons.

As winter marches on, we’re getting excited about the prospect of the 2017 summer CSA program. In today’s post, we feature a Q&A with Andrea from Providence Organic Farm about her young family’s experience living off the soil here in Michigan.

There’s alway a story behind the food we eat. For Ryan, Andrea and their four children, that story involves faith, family and a love of fresh, organic food.

(One final note before we hear directly from Andrea. As always, Life and Whim has no affiliation with the businesses and entrepreneurs we feature. We just love what they do and make, and think our readers will, too. Providence Organic Farm is no exception. If you’d like to learn more about Providence Organic Farm and its 2017 CSA share program, click here.)

Life on the Family Farm

What does a typical day on the farm look like for you?

Depending on the time in our growing season, Ryan’s mind is on managing the gardens and our farm team: cultivating, planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, tilling, etc. Depending on the day, he may be fixing equipment, planting, cultivating, directing and participating in the harvest, washing and packaging of shares, market, restaurant and grocery store produce, attending to our animals needs, repairing or ordering equipment, researching products or equipment and more.

The older two kids may be with him in that work or with me at one of our four farm markets. I, like many other moms, balance mothering/homemaking with my jobs on the farm: handling correspondence, publishing the newsletter & website, marketing, attending 4 markets a week, and hosting 2 CSA pick-ups at our farm a week. I also enjoy hosting many on-farm events such as tours for all ages, CSA potlucks, and classes about various topics.

Heather and I run a business together from home, and so there’s often a thin line between work and home life. What are some of the benefits and challenges you’ve experienced running a business as husband/wife and in mixing home life and business life?

Setting boundaries has been a challenge. There’s always one more thing that needs to be done, whether on the farm or on the computer. Also, our office is currently in our home which means a lot of non-family is in our home throughout the year, but especially May – November. We only hire people we like and get along with, but it’s still a challenge to come home from a 8-hour day at the farm market and have people coming and going from the house.

Solution? Go with the flow, try to be nonchalant, leave to work elsewhere by computer or take a walk. We are finally building an office in our new barn.

We are not always very good at it, but we try to get off the computer by 8 each night. We also NEED to go on dates with each other, and with kids – OFF the farm. We also enjoy hiking, socializing with our community of friends, live music and house-church or building-church on Sundays. Saturday late afternoon through Sundays are reserved for family (mostly). Sunday night is prep for Monday.

How do you get your kids involved in running your business?

We gave them the expectation for work from the time they were very young. It starts with chores in the home and moves to the outside farm as they get to be older. 3-5 year olds have to put away toys and can “help” with just about any household chore if you have the patience to let them! 7 and up can “help” at the markets and a bit in the fields. Pretty soon, they’re 9 and we’re paying them because they are so needed at markets and doing such a great job. Around 12-13, the boys were driving tractors and working some in the fields.

What lessons and skills are they learning?

It’s really important to have a peaceful, orderly home environment. Our farm life is too much work for Ryan and I to do that, and all of the other jobs that have to be done in our home as well. So our 4 kids all know how to do laundry, clean and cook – not perfectly, but good enough and spurred on with lots of praise! Each kid has daily chores and we take turns making meals during the summer. It’s not easy because they can tell that other kids don’t have to do as much at their homes. We’ve had a few talks about that.

On the upside, our kids are complimented often when interacting with adults, which is often in our business. They have met so many people from all over – people who buy from us at markets and people who come and work on the farm. They’ve all developed really good skills in customer service as well. Also, our kids have a steady stream of income from a young age. We pay them a fair wage for their help at market and on the farm beyond family chores. This gives them a sense of what a dollar is worth and they’ve become pretty wise savers and spenders. My son has pretty much covered the first two years of college at MSU by himself.

Any other benefits of raising kids in a farm lifestyle?

Daily care of animals teaches them a lot about responsibility for life. Our kids have had an intimate relationship with where their food comes from, and been a part of growing it. They’ve also seen many live births, taken care of chicks, nursed an injured calf to health and seen death as well. It may be harder to find those lessons in a non-farm environment.

What are some of your favorite family activities in NW Michigan?

We’ve always loved lake hopping and hiking in all seasons.

Lately, though?: Surfing!

We had a blast one crazy wavy day in August! We had access to a real surfboard from a neighbor and our body boards. We already have wet suits, so we were able to play all day. It was awesome! Also, skateboarding has been pretty big. The kids got Ryan to longboard for a day and I was NOT interested. But I did videotape it!

What’s in store for for the farm over the coming years?

We are currently building a storefront at our farm. We are limited by capital, so these ideas may not come to fruition for awhile (if at all), but we’d love to have more land in organic production, more efficient equipment, and a workspace for farm equipment. We see on-farm “what organic is all about” education as a goal, more school farm tours, a tasting room that concentrates on fresh-picked veggies, grab and go food for area campers and fishermen, farm-to-table dinners, and offering products we don’t grow or make, but that our local friends do…right here in our store.

Any other information you’d like to share?

We’re super blessed to be able to do this. We knew what we wanted long ago, but couldn’t really see a clear path of how to get there. We spent a lot of time learning and growing, dedicated to the craft of organic agriculture. We tried to be smart about working, saving and spending too. We could never have imagined being where we are now. So we’re always mindful of the fact that without our community support, we wouldn’t be.