Providence Farm is owned and operated by Ryan and Andrea Romeyn. Ryan has been farming since 1998 and operating a CSA since 2002, previously at the Wagbo Peace Center in East Jordan. In 2006, the Romeyns started Providence farm at Wagbo. They then moved their business to their own land in 2008, which is located at the northern tip of Torch Lake, near Eastport, MI.
They grow over 70 varieties of certified and transition organic in-season vegetables, many of which show up in Oryana’s produce section.
How did they get their inspiration to start an organic farm? When they were in their in their early 20’s, they went on a Habitat For Humanity project in Tennessee, then went on to visit its headquarters in Americus, Georgia. They headed to the farm community where Millard Fuller was inspired to start Habitat For Humanity. The farm was Koinonia Partners, and it had an organic garden.
They were invited to stay for a few days. Maybe it was the fact that it was spring time in southern Georgia and they were in love, or it could have been the taste of the surprisingly sweet and crunchy turnip they shared in the pecan orchard, or maybe it was simply the idealism and God-centered vision at Koinonia that inspired him, but something stirred deeply in Ryan’s heart about that garden.
Ryan was inspired to plant his first garden that same spring in northern Michigan at the Bay Area Adventure School in Traverse City, where they were teaching. Later that summer, he brought Andrea to that garden to ask her “to walk through life’s journey” with him. That first garden and the deep down satisfaction it gave Ryan on a soul level, created the irresistible urge to explore organic agriculture as his life’s work.
Soon after they married, Ryan interned for a short time with Dave and Pat Van Dyke at Sky View Farm in Maple City. Then they headed back to Koinonia Partners, in Plains, GA, for an internship. After six months there, Ryan went to school for sustainable agriculture in North Carolina at Central Carolina Community College, where farmers taught the classes and tuition was affordable. Students were also required to intern on several farms and put in over 400 hours in hands-on training. After graduation, Ryan worked with a builder for two years, with the intention of learning enough about building to build his own outbuildings and home on our eventual farm. Then, in 2002, they moved up to East Jordan to work for Wagbo Peace Center as the farm manager.
The story about how they came to live in this part of the world is too long to tell here but it involved years of praying, (They believe in God's love and providence, and have let Him have charge of their lives, though imperfectly over the years,) searching, (Ryan was more knowledgeable about the land for sale in this region than most real estate agents in three counties), and an earthly “angel.” Although they had already purchased 13 acres between East Jordan and Boyne City, they had outgrown it (farming-wise), before it came time to build their home. Their “angel” knew Ryan through her CSA membership, tasted his work over the years, and enjoyed the many vegetables he grew. She also owned a fine piece of farmland on the north tip of Torch Lake and she offered to sell it to them at a price they could afford! They moved their family in the Spring of 2008. Not a day goes by that they don't feel blessed beyond measure to be here, on their beautiful land, doing what they love while raising their children. Can anyone tell why they named their farm what they did?
Another important aspect to this story for any of you aspiring farmers is that Ryan qualified for a beginning farmer’s loan through the USDA due to the fact that he successfully managed the farm at Wagbo Peace Center for several years and had all of the hard data to prove it. That loan enabled them to purchase their land and build their house. Ryan was able to be the general contractor and main builder of the home as well, which saved a lot of money in the overall cost. Future plans: They are expanding their organic certification. This year, (2011) they will have 10+ acres certified. Next year, it will be over 15 acres certified organic. They are also going to add pastured beef to our farm.
Fast forward to 2011: A typical day on the job? Depending on the time in their growing season, Ryan’s mind is on managing the gardens: cultivating, planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, tilling, etc. Depending on the day, he may be directing and participating in the harvest, washing and packaging of shares, market, restaurant and grocery store produce. The older kids and Andrea may be with him in that work; or she may be with the younger kids inside, trying to balance mothering, homemaking, handling correspondence, bookkeeping and publishing the newsletter. Fridays, the little ones are usually watched by friends as Ryan and the boys harvest and ready food for CSA and markets while Andrea attends the Elk Rapids Market. She greets members who pick-up on Friday evenings and gets up early to pack for and attend farm markets in Traverse City and Boyne City on Saturday.
Their biggest challenge? Creating balance for their family amid the work. Once spring is in full bloom they are very busy. And when the CSA and farm markets start, they are very, very busy. Andrea also teaches preschool from September to May. They want to be able (and their children to be able) to look back at this time in their life as a mix of an adventure, rewarding hard work, and fun. Physical exhaustion can kind of put a damper on that last part. But, lest anyone thinks she’s whining, they are refining their approach each year and hopeful that they can grow to that point. They often think of the business as a newborn. That first phase of life with a new baby is exhausting, requiring constant attentiveness and energy. But as the “baby” matures, they enjoy the rewards of that initial time as they watch the farm develop: The soils become richer. Customers return year after year. They acquire the tools needed to make each job more efficient. And their children are learning the true value and challenges of being good stewards of the land, hard work and healthy food.
Perks to the job that money can't buy? The best perks have to be:
- Customers who give high-fives, hugs and “love notes” because of their veggies and pork.
- Shareholders who take ownership of their farm, and drive in with friends to give them a tour!
- The friendships built with members.
- Having an intimate connection to the land, knowing they are doing all they can to steward and protect it.
- Helping people get excited about eating healthy food!
- Living and playing in Northern Michigan. Working outside. Seeing a bit of Torch Lake every day.
- The satisfaction of hard work.
- An increased faith in God as He has answered our prayers over and over again, (They accept "yes", "no", "wait", and "watch this!"), guiding their journey to this point, providing the wisdom, soil and tools that they need among many, many other blessings in love, family and friendships along the way.
The Romeyn’s farm verse:
1 Corinthians, 3:7 (NIV)
"So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow."