“Before the reward, there must be labor. You plant before you harvest. You sow in tears before you reap joy.” – Ralph Ransom
The abundance of northern Michigan’s many riches is never more apparent than now. The approaching fall demands that farmers set our tables with the literal fruits of their summer’s labor. Visit one of our local farmers markets and be ready for an impressive diversity of locally grown crops. Take a ride down any one of our scenic rural roads and pass by dozens of farms and roadside vegetable stands. Some, like Gallagher’s Farm Market on M72 or Friske’s on US 31, are full-fledged stores with professional staff. I dare you to leave either of these places without a full pie in hand and a smile on your face.
Others are small ad-hoc trailers or tents erected for a particular crop and a limited time. They regale us with inviting words crafted in bold text; “heirloom tomatoes,” “fresh peaches,” “local apples.” While it’s difficult to pick a favorite, I have to side with the little self-serve fruit and vegetable stands. Often these are just a hut with a dirt driveway featuring a small variety of supremely fresh produce. The goods are loosely displayed in baskets or bags, sitting on a counter with only a coffee can as a point-of-sale system.
There aren’t many places left in this country where the honor system is still used to sell products. This fact is more astounding when you consider that today’s small farmers are one of the most endangered professions in the U.S. Their margins are extremely narrow, yet many offer this service harkening back to a time when family farms were all we knew. It doesn’t require a smartphone, a pin code or video surveillance. As consumers, our only expectation is a hand-scrawled sign on poster board announcing what’s on hand and at what price.
We trust in the value offered, as farmers trust in our reciprocal exchange. This act of reason and conviction enchants me and sustains my hope in humanity. It speaks to a belief in community, faith, and relationships that transcend an increasingly skeptical world.
There’s one such farm stand on Hoxie Road, outside Traverse City, that I love stopping by for peaches or apples after a long bike ride. I try to carry a little cash on my rides for just this reason and usually leave more than the value I take. Heading down the long hill towards home with a bike jersey full of fresh fruit feels like a triumph. There’s simply nothing like produce this ripe on a warm fall day. The aroma permeates the last few miles toward home, reinforcing the pastoral views of orchards, fields, forests and Lake Michigan’s azure blue waters in the distance.
We live in an amazing—visually stunning—place. Our home is also stunning in the sheer variety and richness of the crops small farmers produce to put on our plates. Now is the time to reap the labors of what they’ve sown and invest in an honorable tradition of which we can all still be proud.
Bill Palladino is CEO of Taste the Local Difference, a social enterprise of the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. To find farms, farm stands and markets in our region, visit their website. Localdifference.org
This article first appeared in the Traverse City Record-Eagle Ag Forum on September 10, 2016