A Labor of Love for the Wares of Ware Farm
Bernie and Sandee Ware ought to know a thing or two about farming. Bernie’s family has been doing it since 1875 and Sandee’s even longer, since the late 1600s in Germany. Bernard “Bud” Ware, Bernie’s father, now 89 years old, purchased the current farm in Pleasanton Township back in 1950, and Bernie intends for the land to be farmed into perpetuity through an eventual land trust. But for now, he and Sandee have had their hands full, literally, of strawberries when the season gets under way in late spring.
The Wares grow four acres of certified organic strawberries, their biggest crop, in addition to blueberries, shiitake mushrooms, vegetables, and in the next year or two, asparagus. But before even getting to the strawberry harvest this year (2012), Bernie had to interrupt his sleep on more than one occasion. On the numerous nights when frost threatened to destroy the delicate blossoms, Bernie had the irrigation system running to cover the plants with a protective ice layer, a process that had to be monitored every two hours. But his efforts paid off.
During the height of strawberries, it’s early to the field (6:30 a.m.) to oversee a crew of pickers. The season lasts anywhere from two to five weeks depending on the weather, and the berries go in all directions, to Oryana, local farmers markets, and even all the way to Chicago and Detroit.
Although organic farming is a labor of love for the Wares, it’s not without its challenges. “The to-do list is long and overwhelming. There is always more than can be done,” says Bernie. “We do our best to grant ourselves personal space and maintain a sense of balance amidst weather extremes and crop failures.”
What Bernie finds particularly rewarding is the relationship between he and his parents with regard to transferral of the land. Bernie left the farm at age 18 to pursue a different career but returned 20 years later to a livelihood that he finds nourishing and healing. “I was successful but I felt empty in my other career,” he recalls. The relationship with both Sandee’s and Bernie’s parents is instrumental in the farm operation. “My dad had a stroke but he’s out there riding a tractor today.” Sandee’s parents still work the farm too.
As for the future of Ware Farm, a plan is in the works to preserve it as a “commons.” In collaboration with various local non-profit organizations including ISLAND and the Manistee Community Kitchen, the Wares intend for the land to be used for educational purposes for future generations. According to Bernie, “We recognize that land is not a commodity. It’s more important than that.”