Z & N Farm Update

  in Blog

For this year’s microloan we supported Z & N Farm in Bear Lake with the sum of $6,392 for the purpose of expanding their hoop house square footage by 4500 sq ft in order to increase shoulder season produce production. This was for the purpose of boosting the local veggie supply for neighbors, food pantries, and school partnerships during times of the year when they are typically unable to do so because of the limited growing season in Northern Michigan.

But first, a quick recap of the farm: Zac & Nicole (Z& N) grow all their vegetables and fruits following natural and organic growing guidelines. Established in November 2017, they set out to bring new life to an abandoned cherry orchard once farmed by Zac’s grandfather several decades ago. They offer CSA shares, have a farm stand, and sell at the Elberta Farmers Market. They also provide fresh produce twice per month to a local food pantry throughout the growing season to increase access to healthy food choices in the community.

We caught up with the couple to see how things are going so far this summer and how the acquisition of a new hoop house has affected their operation. We also wondered, since many of us like to garden, how they cope with the inevitable challenges of growing fresh food.

“We ended up with a new 2900 sq ft greenhouse from which we have already harvested over 100 lbs of salad greens, 100 lbs of radishes, and several dozen bunches of kohlrabi & bok choi,” said Zac. “It has already been replanted with tomato transplants for a late summer harvest before we reset it again for another final round of salad greens for the winter. This new greenhouse brings us to three 2900 sq ft greenhouses and two 1200 sq ft greenhouses, in all of which we do high intense planting and turnover of salad, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc.” 

Regarding some of the challenges they faced this summer, Zac reported, “Only 5 days after installing the plastic on our new greenhouse, we were hit by an intense hail storm which damaged the brand new plastic, and all the plastic on our greenhouses – all of which now need to be replaced – but thankfully the damage was not more severe! After seven spring seasons here, I can say that each spring delivers its own devastating blows of unpredictable weather from severe wind, drought, late frosts, late snow, intense heat, and weeds, never ending weeds. We know greenhouses help our chances but there is only so much we can do and the rest is up to Mother Nature.”

“One piece of old farming advice in Northern Michigan is to always beware of a frost the first week of June (especially if a full moon that week). This year we saw frost as late as June 9. Luckily, our location is a little less prone to frost, which we know is outside of most everyone’s control. We’ve had an exceptionally wet year, which does mean more chances for slugs/bugs and disease pressures. Keeping your beds regularly weeded and cultivated can help reduce some of these pressures, as it makes the environmental less hospitable.” 

In addition to greenhouse damage, they also sustained some produce loses. “As for pests,” said Zac, “we had an entire crop of Napa cabbage decimated that was a complete loss. We do what we can to crop rotate and other preventative measures but as farmers we’ve learned to take our losses and move forward rather than lament on them. We get more chances and we learn from our past mistakes and failures.” 

The family photo above showcases the sunflower field they started for cut flower arrangements, which are available at their farm stand.

As for the Zac & Nicole’s children and their vegetable preferences, Nicole said, “Our girls are 2 and 5 years old and have very different favorite vegetables. Our 5 year old is tomato obsessed and we always called her our Tomato Horn Worm. And our 2 year old is in love with broccoli! Of course they both enjoy carrots and our family favorite, sweet corn!”

A final note: Nicole & Zac are presenting a workshop – Infrastructure and Soil Management and Stepping Stones for Start-up Small Farms – at this year’s Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference hosted by Crosshatch in August. You can get tickets for the conference HERE.