The Root of Healthy Living0
Since 2015, Ben Martin and Sarah Luetzow have been turning their passion for health into a growing business. Along with their children Wyatt and Harper, they are farming 22 acres just outside Galesburg, MI using sustainable innovations under the business name Soil Friends Farms. The organization's primary goals are to grow flavorful, nutrient dense produce through crop and soil management, without using pesticides or herbicides.
"Good fertile soil equals healthy food," said Martin. He and Luetzow cultivate this growing style through extra labor and special techniques which manually control weeds and pests. Ultimately, they have a total of about 10 full time employees during the summer months.
From strawberries and onions, to cucumbers and tomatoes, plus everything in between the farm has it all. Soil Friends operates a farm market from mid-May through October at the 1701 North 33rd Street farm in Galesburg. They also sell on a wholesale basis to over 20 grocery chains and restaurants throughout Michigan.
Consumers who like a direct connection with the people growing their food can also own a 'piece of the farm'. By becoming a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shareholder, participants share the risks and benefits of the farm dividends. A full share (a bushel box containing 8 to 12 varieties of seasonal produce weekly) runs $800 for the season, while a half share (pickup every other week) is $450. Folks interested in enjoying their own weekly harvest can call the market at 866-758-5487, email, or register online. In addition to unique boxes of fresh produce from June through October, shareholders also enjoy special events on the farm like the Fall Harvest Dinner and a market discount.
Why would a couple of millennials take the leap of faith to start such a non-traditional business venture? Martin grew up in a food-focused family that owned a local meat market. When young, Martin began growing his own vegetables, and his one acre garden expanded every year. Then, while studying business at Western Michigan University, Martin began going to a gym and doing body building training. That's when he realized it wasn't bulky muscles he was after, instead it was simply to be healthy. Martin began making a deeper connection between the fuel going into his body and the health of his body. It was then he made the decision to focus his education on the business and science of managed growing techniques to create food bursting with flavor. Through professional internships, Martin has developed knowledge and relationships that today impact his crop management and growing philosophies. Luetzow's education also leans on the science of clean food and health. She has a background in nursing, with a goal of one day being a midwife.
The farm life offers the young family plenty of opportunities to enjoy fresh air and get dirt in their toes, as the family of four lives adjacent to the farm. Martin and Luetzow commute to work by strolling across a strawberry patch. While they plow fields, manage the greenhouses or plant seedlings, their children can play alongside them, as they grow-up with an appreciation of the land and where food comes from. The family is literally growing as well, as Martin and Luetzow will welcome their third baby in July.
The fields are replanted throughout the season to maximize growing time and output. And the bounty never goes to waste. Extras from the market are donated to Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. In 2016, Soil Friends contributed over 10,000 pounds of produce to the organization.
"During the growing season, my job is crop management," said Martin. "Keeping the crops happy and babied results in food higher in nutrients."
Martin's goal for Soil Friends is to ultimately utilize all 22 acres, growing plants in a sustainable manner without chemicals. He sees the business becoming a destination for families as well, with healthy products in the market, plus farm animals and outdoor activities for the kids. They're obviously doing a great job moving Soil Friends forward just winning the 2017 Michigan SBDC Regional Best Small Business Award.
Martin clearly gets great joy out of his work and is excited to talk about it. Make a point to stop at the market during June which is the peak time for the farm's multiple varieties of strawberries, and let Martin tell you more about his farm operation.