The past few months have brought a lot of change and disruption for Michigan’s local food businesses. Vicki Zilke, of Zilke Farm Kitchen and Zilke Vegetable Farm, views these changes as an opportunity to double down on her business mission. The best way forward, she says, is to reconnect to the “why” behind the day-to-day tasks and challenges.
Two years ago, Zilke Farm Kitchen opened with the goals of getting healthy food to the Milan community, decreasing the barriers to accessing this healthy food, and serving the community by paying local taxes and employing local people. As they shift to find a new “normal” during the pandemic, Vicki is keeping these goals close to heart.
In April, Zilke Farm Kitchen began partnering with Gretchen Kuehnlein-Kopmanis on the #nibbles4nurses campaign. This grassroots project uses donations from local organizations and individuals to purchase meals from local businesses for frontline workers. Through this program, Zilke Farm Kitchen is providing healthy bento boxes – and a few sweet treats – for healthcare workers in Washtenaw County.
In addition to #nibblesfornurses, Zilke Farm Kitchen currently provides 60 meals a day to Huron Valley PACE and 30 meals a day to the Milan Seniors for Healthy Living. Providing these meals, and partnering with #nibbles4nurses, is helping Zilke Farm Kitchen stay true to their mission of getting people good food while employing fellow community members.
Vicki loves being able to support the community with her healthy food, especially during this pandemic. “I feel like I’m helping, adding value. Because I’m a nurse, this hits all the right buttons,” she says.
At Zilke Vegetable Farm, the pandemic has also caused a few shifts. This year, Tom and Vicki are growing less food for wholesale accounts and more for direct to consumer sales to ensure the community has consistent access to high-quality food. This means they’ll be growing smaller amounts of a greater diversity of crops which, in turn, means tweaking their farm systems and operations. They also plan to open their farm stand in mid-May with longer hours and partner with other local growers to supply additional products they don’t grow.
And, if folks can’t make it to the farm stand, they will be able to order Zilke Vegetable Farm produce through the brand new Ypsi Area Online Marketplace. Using this platform, customers can shop with Zilke Vegetable Farm, and a variety of other producers, place one order, and pick it up at Zilke Farm Kitchen later in the week. The online marketplace also has a way for SNAP/EBT customers to utilize their benefits for purchases.
For Zilke Vegetable Farm and Zilke Farm Kitchen, it was clear they needed to make changes to their plans due to coronavirus. They are remaining true to their mission and helping their community.