Twisted Maple Farm

I’ve driven past Twisted Maple Farm a million times and never stopped to appreciate its beauty. Now I can’t drive past their farm without driving slowly to take it all in. You see, I’m not only a farm lover, I’m a totally history nerd. And what a history this farm has!

 

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(Photos courtesy of Twisted Maple Farm)

Twisted Maple Farm in Whitehall, Michigan is a Michigan Centennial Farm, meaning it was owned by the same family for over 100 years. Locally known as the Durham Farm,the farmhouse and the barn date back to the late 1800s. The farm was purchased in 1876 by Samuel Zachariason who immigrated from Oslo, Norway in 1868. (click here for a link to a newspaper article about the farm shared by Remembering White Lake History Facebook Group). Still standing today are the farmhouse and a barn, which Twisted Maple is still using for their cattle.

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Part of my tour of Twisted Maple Farm included that historic 1860s barn. Cassidy showed me around, pointing out beautiful hand hewn beams, as we imagined what the farm must have been like back then. At that point, the railroad (where the bike trail is today), ran right past the farm. Cassidy and I wondered if people ever stopped by the farm as they traveled along the railroad tracks. According to the article shared by the Remembering White Lake History group, the family used the cleared railway tracks to get into town during the winter, and the railroad to get to Muskegon in the summertime. If only that barn could talk, the stories it would tell.

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Cassidy and Adam made the decision in 2016 to move from Lansing, where they attended college, to the Muskegon county area where they are from.  When Adam and Cassidy purchased the farm, the historic barn was in need of repair. Respecting the history the farm has in the community, the couple decided to start restoring the barn to its former glory. They began with having the foundation repaired, ensuring a safer area for their animals and a more structurally sound barn. The next major project will be having the roof repaired in order to protect the original hand hewn beams.

Cassidy showed me to their herd of Scottish Highland cattle. The couple chose to raise Scottish Highlands due to the high quality meat they produce, lower in cholesterol than most beef and full of beautiful marbling. Highlands are processed around at around 24 months of age, so the two steers they currently have will take another year before being butchered. This made me smile because I feel like even their choice of cattle pays homage to the history of the farm, a time when things were much slower than the fast-paced age we live in now. I have a feeling the beef Twisted Maple will produce will be well worth the wait.

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(If you want to see more of their beautiful Scottish Highland cows, check out Twisted Maple Farm’s Facebook page where you can find a collection of videos of their animals!)

 

Of course, what would a farm tour be without stopping off to see the wide array of farm animals being raised there.  From meat chickens to egg layers, ducks to pigs. Twisted Maple Farm was certainly full of wonderful sights and sounds, including the curious hen who followed us everywhere, even popping out of the bushes by the barn, startling us a tiny bit. Whereas I did enjoy my feathered farm tour companion, I enjoyed visiting the pigs even more. The pigs being raised at Twisted Maple Farm have access to pasture where they can root around and munch. They are also offered non-GMO feed to supplement their pasture grazing. I don’t know about you, but these look like some happy, content pigs.

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According to Cassidy, they use De Vries Meats in Coopersville, Michigan to process their pigs, which is a USDA Certified processing facility. If you’re looking to fill your freezer with pork for the winter, Twisted Maple will have pigs ready for processing in October. I have to say, my family sampled their bacon and ham steaks, and they were absolutely delicious (as in, I had to hide the rest of the bacon so my children didn’t devour it in one sitting). It’s no surprise that their pork is so delicious; healthy, happy animals produce higher quality, better tasting meat.

Speaking of high quality, great tasting meat, Twisted Maple also offers broiler chickens raised right there on their farm. Seriously, there’s no comparison to the meat from a farm fresh chicken. Not only does the meat taste amazing, the stock or broth you can make from them is beyond compare. Contact Twisted Maple about purchasing their farm fresh chickens to fill your freezer. Trust me, you will be thankful for this tip when it’s the dead of winter and you don’t have to rush to the grocery store to put a delicious, locally sourced meal on the table.

My tour of Twisted Maple Farm concluded with a conversation about what the future has in store for this historic farm. Cassidy said they would love to continue restoring the barn to its former glory. She also said one day she dreams of combining her life-long love of horses with her education in psychology to create a therapeutic farm. Cassidy grew up around horses on her grandmother’s farm and said she would love to share that passion for horses with others.

I have to say, Cassidy and Adam have already created a pretty therapeutic farm, whether they realize it or not. Stepping on to their farm is like stepping back into history. It gave me goosebumps to see the photos Cassidy shared of their farm so many years ago and realize I was standing in the same spot. A spot where children grew up, where trains passed, bringing people to and from our community, a spot where a family no doubt experienced hardship and happiness and still kept the farm running. I appreciate their respect for the history of the farm, sharing photos and stories about the farm. Restoring the existing barn when they could very well tear it down in favor of a modern pole barn. Choosing animals breeds based on quality, not on the speed at which they can be processed. Visiting Twisted Maple Farm certainly encourages you to step out of that fast-paced world many of us are accustomed to and slow down a little. Thank you, Twisted Maple Farm, for everything you are doing to not only preserve a piece of our community’s history, but also for raising your animals well, providing our community with high-quality local meat!

 

 

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Rhubarb

One of the first things to pop up through the newly thawed spring ground is the perennial vegetable, rhubarb. I have to admit, the last year was the first time I had tried rhubarb. I saw it at the farmers market and decided to figure out later what to do with it. It turns out, rhubarb is a delightful addition to many jams!

One thing I quickly learned to love about rhubarb (sorry, friends, not a fan of the raw taste), was what a great “filler” rhubarb is for jams. Instead of using all strawberries or all blueberries, which can get costly, I used rhubarb to add some bulk and the perfect amount of tartness to the jams I made. I found a delicious strawberry rhubarb jam in this Ball Canning cookbook. The jam is a big hit in our household, so I will be making many batches this year.

The only thing I don’t like about rhubarb, other than the raw taste, is how early it’s ready compared to the fruits I wanted to use for jam. Fear not, my fresh preserving friends. I have a few solutions for this problem: use your freezer to help out. First, you can buy rhubarb in bulk and then freeze it until other fruits come in season. Or, if you plan well enough, you can buy enough fruit when it’s in season, freeze it, then have it on hand the next spring when rhubarb comes up. By some odd luck, this happened this year, which made me quite happy as I could start making some strawberry rhubarb jam while the temperatures were still mild.

If you’re wondering how to freeze rhubarb, wonder no more. It’s really as simple as rinsing, chopping and freezing. For the freezing part, put either some wax paper or a dish towel on a cookie sheet and spread the rhubarb into a thin layer. Make sure the pieces aren’t piled up, as they will freeze into a big ball. I like to use dish towels to save from wasting anything that will just go in the trash, especially because I put up a LOT of fruits and veggies every season. You can also use silicone baking mats like these for this as well, for another greener alternative to wax paper. Place the sheet in the freeze until frozen, then pop that frozen rhubarb in a Ziploc bag or another freezer safe container. (One caution though: the leaves are NOT edible. You will notice most places that sell rhubarb have already taken the leaves off for you. If you grow your own rhubarb or receive some from a kind friend, remove the leaves before chopping up the rhubarb.)

I’m still exploring the many uses of rhubarb, but I’ve come across some delicious looking recipes! Apparently you can make a drink with strawberries, rhubarb and gin. Yes, please! And others use rhubarb in pies, muffins and other desserts. As I try out more recipes, I will be sure to share them with you.

Do you have a favorite rhubarb recipe? Share in the comments below and I will add it to my list!

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Asparagus Season is Here!

A moment many Michiganers have been patiently waiting for: when those spears first start popping up through the ground. The appearance of asparagus in roadside stands and markets signifies the start of the growing season, which is cause for celebration, if you ask me. And here in West Michigan, people go gaga over the stuff. Case in point is the National Asparagus Festival in Hart, Michigan, where you can taste asparagus prepared in a variety of different ways, see the crowning of the Asparagus Queen and take a tour of an asparagus farm.

Luckily for Western Michiganers, you don’t have to go far to find fresh, locally grown asparagus. Roadside stands are popping up all over the place with the delicious green spears. Below you will find a list of places you can find asparagus. I didn’t include the weekly farmer’s market because it’s a given you will find whatever is in season there. If you know of any more locations selling local asparagus, comment below, email me or find me on Facebook.

Places to Buy Local Asparagus:

  • Roadside stand on White Lake Drive between Whitehall Rd and Durham Road
  • Roadside stand near intersection of Fruitvale Rd and Old 31 in Montague
  • Post Rd and Lamos Rd in Montague
  • Webster Rd just west of Old 31
  • Bishop Farm in Whitehall, Michigan

Hidden Creek Farm

As I tour West Michigan farms, one thing I’m surprised to hear is that many of the farmers weren’t raised on farms. Crystal of Hidden Creek Farms falls into this category, telling me she was raised in the country but not on a farm. When I asked her how they learned so much if they weren’t raised on a farm, she replied they’ve learned along the way. And what a lot they have learned!

On my visit to Hidden Creek Farm, I was blown away by how much they have going on there, especially given their location, right off River Road. The first time I happened upon their farm, I was en route to a friends house, turning off Whitehall Road onto River Road. As I was driving, I saw their roadside stand and sign. Right there amidst family homes and small neighborhoods was an 18 acre farm, complete with chickens, goats, cows, pigs, quails and more.

 

 

Crystal started our tour with their mini-market they call their “Farmacy” (LOVE IT!), where customers can stop by and pick up some eggs, honey, and when available, maple syrup. They also have a fridge for their customers who purchase their goats milk, and freezer where they keep their broilers (and sidenote: we’ve purchased their broilers before. Delicious! Buy some, you won’t be disappointed!) I loved that in addition to the food products available for purchase, Hidden Creek also has an assortment of handmade earrings and necklaces made from molted feathers from their chickens. How cool is that?! On trend fashion that’s sustainable and local. Just as exciting are the tanks, t-shirts, handmade soaps and bows available for purchase. Ladies, bring extra cash when you pick up your farm fresh products, you won’t want to miss this!  And gentlemen, Mother’s Day is coming up. Imagine the brownie points you’d get if you made that Mom in your life an omelette bar brunch, adorned her with some fashionable jewelry and gave her some time to indulge in a shower or bath with some wonderfully smelling soaps. Just saying. (Wink wink, nudge nudge, dear husband of mine).

 

Next up was a trip to the barn where I saw some of their pigs. Unfortunately the piglets running around didn’t stop long enough for me to get a good photo op. But trust me, I wanted to squeal with delight (pun intended) at how cute they were. On the other side of the farm, I got to see more of their hogs, running around, being their curious natural selves. Crystal told me they raise registered Tamworth pigs, a heritage breed known for their great foraging abilities. The pigs at Hidden Creek are raised on open pasture and a woodlot and when fed grains, given only non-GMO locally milled grains. Coolest part: these pigs (and other animals on the farm) are fed pulp from Rootdown and Bodhi Tree, two local businesses. I LOVE this! ALL of this! From the humanely raised local meat to the local businesses supporting each other. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

 

After visiting the pigs, Crystal showed me their broiler chickens, cows, eggs layers and goats. They offer 1/4, 1/2, and whole cows, whole and half hogs, lamb, goat, turkey, and broiler chickens for those interested in filling up their freezers. (Coming from a someone who has ordered many sides of meat, you really should consider this. I absolutely love the quality of meat we get from local farmers, and the ease of always having meat to pull out of the freezer for dinners and cookouts). To learn more about their animals, check out their website and “like” their Facebook page. You will undoubtedly be impressed by how well they take care of their animals and be even more impressed by how amazing care and attention translates into better tasting meat.

 

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Of course a tour of Hidden Creek Farm wouldn’t be complete without touring their garden spaces, flower gardens and raised beds, prepped and ready for a busy growing season. During the growing season, you can stop by their roadside stand to enjoy some fresh produce and stunning flowers. You can also find Hidden Creek at the Sweetwater Local Foods Market each weekend, selling what’s in season on their farm, as well as those super chic pieces of jewelry and other handmade/homemade goodies. If you want even more farm to table goodness, Hidden Creek is partnering with local chef, Chef Damon Covington, to present a Farm to Table evening on July 14.  Hidden Creek is also hosting two FUN filled open farm events, May 19th and September 15. Check out their Facebook events to see all the other local vendors who will be present to make these events you won’t want to miss.

For a couple who wasn’t raised on a farm, Crystal and Lee sure have farming pretty well mastered. Their commitment to humanely and sustainably raised meats and non-GMO, chemical free produce shows their dedication to providing high quality and healthy foods to the community around them. Thanks, Crystal and Lee, for sharing your beautiful farm with me and for continuing to be honest and transparent about your food! Can’t wait to come back for your events and purchase more of your amazing food.

 

 

 

McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm

 

Last Saturday, my family decided to finally find Ryke’s bakery after our trip to the Muskegon Farmer’s Market. Driving down Laketon Avenue, we saw a bustling neighborhood with cars turning left and right, family homes, businesses, a hospital. Then, wait! Is that a greenhouse? It sure is! There, seemingly in the hospital parking lot, sits a small urban farm, right smack dab in the middle of all of this urban hustle and bustle. That urban farm is McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm, situated in the McLaughlin neighborhood of Muskegon.

After driving past this curious little farm, I couldn’t wait to meet farm manager Laurie Wieschowski and see what was growing at “McGrows”. I wasn’t sure what to expect given I was visiting a farm in March. But, oh my, is that farm already well on it’s way to a glorious growing season. Laurie first showed me their hoop house, where garlic and collard greens happily thrived and others rows were being prepped for planting. There I met Gage, the assistant farm manager, and Brietta, a member of YEP, a local youth leadership program who were both setting up irrigation lines.

 

 

Next I toured the green house where trays of microgreens, onions and leeks were soaking in the warmth of the green house. There Laurie told me how the farm works for the community that surrounds them, providing a “food forest” in front where anyone can come pick and enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, and a children’s garden within the farm’s fences, with colorful raised beds that will soon be filled with fruit and vegetable plants kids can sample from. Laurie told me about how McGrows welcomes all, from preschool and school age children learning about growing a garden, to youth in the Youth Empowerment Project, learning the ins and outs of running an urban farm. Laurie also told stories of people who volunteer at the farm and keep coming back because they love it so much.

 

What captivated me the most about McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm was not just the plants growing in the hoop house and green house (although they were stunning), but more importantly, the stories. Brietta moved me with her story about starting at McGrows because she saw a flyer at school saying if she finished the program mentioned in the flyer, she would receive money. Very enticing, indeed. But she said she stayed because she loved seeing not just the plants growing around her but the relationships as well. How youth like her would start at the farm, unsure of getting their hands dirty. As the plants grew, so did their relationships with each other, their friendships, their confidence, their leadership skills, their connection to the plants they watched sprout up and produce healthy fruits and vegetables for the community around them.

Her story brought a tear to my eye because I could feel how important and powerful this farm was to many people in the community. Even though not much was in bloom at McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm during my visit, what’s always growing there year round is an honest, sincere and inspiring sense of a community coming together, getting their hands dirty and growing more than just food.

Next time you are at the Muskegon Farmer’s Market, stop at the McLaughlin Grows Urban Farm table and buy their greens and produce and herbs and whatever they have. (I’ve had their microgreens. Delicious!). When you invest in their food, you are investing in a community, in opportunities for our youth and the community to engage in growing high quality sustainable food.

And why stop at buying a bag of their delectable microgreens? Sign up for the CSA program and receive a weekly share of this urban farms harvest. Check out their website to see the variety of CSA programs McGrows offers.

Thank you, McLaughlin Grows Urban Farms for letting me visit! I cannot wait to come back and share your inspiring farm with my family.