Mighty Soil Farm is a small organic farm run by Kate Debs and Joe Newman in the Upper Peninsula town of Chatham. They pack a punch on their ¾-acre parcel, where they grow about forty vegetables, including staples like carrots, tomatoes, and salad greens.
The Mighty Beginnings
There wasn’t a direct path that led Kate and Joe to start Mighty Soil Farm. In fact, neither of them are originally from the UP, and neither initially thought they wanted to become farmers. Kate is from the suburbs of Detroit, where she was never exposed to growing her own food or vegetable gardening. It wasn’t until some friends of hers introduced her to gardening while she was working in New Orleans that she fell in love with growing her own food. She started a little container garden on her balcony and was hooked. She decided to spend the next summer working at an organic farm in Vermont in order to see if farming was something she could enjoy doing full-time. Joe, on the other hand, grew up in Upstate New York where he had a little experience with growing his own food. His parents had a vegetable garden and some farm animals, but he never considered farming more than a chore.
It was Kate and Joe’s shared experience working on a few different farms together that convinced them they wanted to farm full-time. They met in 2014 while they were both working at the New Orleans Food Co-op, and they spent their first summer together working on farms in Southeast Michigan. At this point, both Joe and Kate knew they wanted to continue their journey of farming, and they started to toss around the idea of starting their own farm. Kate said, “the more we farmed, the more we got excited about how we wanted to farm. We had a harder time following other people’s leads, and we realized we would have to go out on our own to make our own decisions.” But the up-front costs of investing in land and equipment were scary, so they looked into starting their journey on an incubator farm. That’s how they found their way to the MSU North Farm in Chatham, where they could ease their way into farming by leasing land and equipment while creating a solid plan for eventually buying their own land to farm.
Growing in the UP
It’s in Chatham that Joe and Kate have really been able to focus on the how part of farming. As their name implies, Mighty Soil Farm focuses on building healthy soil by using practices such as low-till, cover cropping, and crop rotation. Using methods that steward healthy soil and protect the local environment makes their work even more rewarding. Kate also described her love for the tangible aspect of farming, saying, “I love how you can see the results of your hard work very quickly. When you weed a bed, you can immediately look back at that bed and see that it’s beautiful and weed-free. Or when you harvest something you can sell it the next day.”
Joe and Kate are excited that they decided to start their farm in the Upper Peninsula, where they see opportunity for growth in the local food system as more people learn more about the benefits of supporting local food. Although this is only their second season in Chatham, Joe and Kate have already seen exciting changes in the local food system. This year, a second day was added to the Marquette Farmers market on Wednesday, showing the demand for more locally-sourced food in the area. Joe and Kate love selling at their local markets because they can connect with their customers and see the joy of eating cooking with safely-grown and healthy vegetables. She said, “farming just feeds us in a way that sitting inside in front of the computer doesn’t.”
Connect with Mighty Soil Farm at the Downtown Marquette Farmers Market on Saturdays and Wednesdays, the Munising Market on Tuesdays, Tadych’s Econofoods, Chatham Co-op, and in dishes at The Marq in Marquette and Falling Rock Café in Munising. If you want to keep up with their story and learn more, find Joe and Kate at @mightysoilfarm on Facebook and Instagram, and their website mightysoilfarm.com/.
Julia Linder is the Communications & Outreach Intern for Summer 2019. She is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan and will be a FoodCorps service member in the fall. This profile is part of the Know Your Farmer series.