In the small town of Cedar Lake, thirty minutes west of the geographical center of Michigan's lower peninsula, the Good News Market & Farm grows fruits and vegetables 'Veganically.' Free from the use of animal products (blood, manures, and bone or fish meals) and using strictly plant-based materials, Veganic farming avoids the potential risks from animal products, like animal-related diseases, contamination, hormones, antibiotics and animal waste run-off.
The farm is co-owned & operated by Andy Britton, a Pennsylvania native who also served as our tour guide. Partnering with the nearby Great Lakes Adventist Academy, high school students have an opportunity to work on the farm and earn money for tuition. In addition to the work/study program, the farm offers a life skills class and students will soon be able to walk away with Master Gardener Certificates.
Entering the acre-sized greenhouse was like Alice visiting Wonderland; surrounded by 9,000 tomato plants that grow up to 35 feet tall, yep, it's like we slipped down a rabbit hole. The student workers are busy pruning the towering plants to battle Blight, a disease caused by humidity and cool nights. Andy explains, “we combat the Blight with an oil made of garlic, cottonseed cloves.” Now, doesn't that sound healthier than spraying the tomatoes with a commercial fungicide like Chlorothalonil? The tomatoes are fertilized with alfalfa pellets produced by the Good News sister farm in Arizona, Sunizona Family Farms. Sunizona, operated by Andy's family, also operates Veganically and offers a Vegan Farm Box.
Beneath the alfalfa pellets, worms work around the clock enhancing the soil. “Two years ago we brought the soil into the greenhouse and have been building that soil to produce beautiful plants. It takes about three years,” Andy said. His largest expense is pest control, for which he uses industrial soap and wasps to battle aphids. The farm grows from seed and all of the seeding is done by hand, except for the micro greens, using a one-of-a-kind seeding machine invented by an Amish colleague, “a genius” says Andy. Artificial grow lights for wintertime greenhouse growing are costly and it helped that the hundreds of greenhouse grow lights were donated, courtesy of the Michigan State Police after a marijuana grow house bust.
The nearby hoop houses occupy a quarter of an acre and provide year-round growing of crops like raspberries, strawberries, kale, lettuces, cucumbers, carrots, and beets. Unafraid to take risks, Andy is experimenting with organic corn, which most people would say is difficult to grow in Michigan; however, the knee-high stalks look healthy as can be. Perhaps next year the experiment will move from the hoop-house to the patch of nearby field Andy has eyeballed for the project.
One of Andy's biggest challenges is customer education. Generally, organic products without preservatives have a shorter shelf life; customers have called to report that their raspberries or blackberries growing mold after only a few days. The solution has been to add notes to the Veganic boxes explaining that organic fruits should be eaten within 3 days or to freeze them. They also educate via emails and newsletters containing information, recipes, and tips about how to use the fresh fruits and vegetables.
The farm mainly wholesales their produce to co-ops and restaurants (Peabody's). Their delicious cucumbers and tomatoes are available at metro Detroit Whole Foods locations (look for the Good News sticker). Another way to receive the Good News goods is purchasing a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box. A CSA box is a wonderful way to connect with a local farmer to know where your food comes from, a truly special feeling. Good News Farm offers the Veganic Farm Box in varying sizes with expanded ordering options to include other Michigan-made food items.
Many thanks to Andy for the inspirational tour. It's clear the ripple effect of his Good News Farm is felt far and wide. You can increase the ripple effect by supporting local businesses and local farmers, especially those growing using Veganic practices good for the environment, animals, and humans. We vote every single day with every single dollar we spend - let's make it count.
Your Plant Based Forks on the Road,
Matt & Erica, The Wandering Food Pharm
Matt & Erica are Plant Based Advocates, FoodTerventionists, & Writers. Always seeking new adventures, they encourage your suggestions on where to wander next! Email if you know of a Plant Based farm, festival, or business that deserves a visit!