Caledonia resident living out his dream on 76th Street farm
By Sheila McGrath | email@example.com
on September 28, 2012 at 2:05 PM, updated October 01, 2012 at 9:41 PM
Ben Bylsma, 28, discusses the pasture-raised chickens on Real Food Farm. When Ben Bylsma was a kid, he was always telling his parents he was going to be a farmer. “That’s nice,” they’d say. “How about a businessman? How about a doctor?”“They would laugh and let it go,” Bylsma said. But the kid who loved to grow tomatoes as an elementary student is now harvesting hundreds of pounds of them each week at Real Food Farm, an operation he started with his wife, Kristen, at 3422 76th St. in Caledonia. This week, the farm opened a retail business in one of its greenhouses offering fall decorating items like mums, pumpkins, bundles of Indian corn, and cornstalks. Kids can paint the pumpkins they buy inside the greenhouse, and a corn maze with a scavenger hunt has been created outside. The retail segment of the operation will benefit not only the Bylsma farm but other Caledonia farmers, who are providing some of his inventory. The cornstalks were grown on Real Food Farm, but the bundles of corn come from a farmer a mile away. The small pumpkins for painting come from Vertical Paradise Farms, which formerly operated at the location and still leases a small space there. “We’re working with a lot of our neighbors to get things in here,” Bylsma said. “I like to support the people around me.
”Now in its second year of operation, Real Food Farm is devoted to providing fresh, local produce to farm markets and restaurants in the off-season. Much of his produce is sold wholesale to other farmers, but Carmelo’s Italian Pizza in Dutton serves their tomatoes, and so does the Silver Spork, a food truck that frequents events around the Grand Rapids area. Trillium Haven, a farm-to-table restaurant that recently opened in the Eastown neighborhood of Grand Rapids, serves pasture-raised chickens from the farm.The property was long owned by Lois and Tom Knott, who operated a flower-growing business there. The farm had been in Lois’ family for 100 years, and originally encompassed 80 acres extending west to Hanna Lake Avenue. Photos of the farm from 1915 show a row of peonies lining a driveway that still grow there today.
For several years, the Knotts leased greenhouse space to Creekside Growers and Vertical Paradise Farms, which have both moved to other locations.Two years ago, the Bylsmas bought the property and began planning to live out their dream of providing safe, local produce.
“My wife and I joined the Peace Corps and we were in Guatemala for a while. We felt strongly that that was the food system we wanted to be involved in. We want to be focused on providing good food for the people around us.”But in Michigan, the season for local produce ends when fall rolls around, so Real Food Farm is using greenhouses, along with hydroponic systems, to start earlier than the typical growing season and end later. They’re also growing cool-weather crops like kale, lettuce, and parsley. “Our focus has been growing safe food, but really focusing on that season extension. We were harvesting tomatoes in April, and plan on them going until around Thanksgiving,” Bylsma said. Running the farm is family operation that involves parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Bylsma’s mom watches the couple’s 6-month-old son, Coleman, a few days a week. His uncle, Ken Bylsma, helped create a business plan while his wife, Adriana, offered marketing ideas. Ken and Adriana’s 13-year-old son sold tomatoes from the farm at the Byron Center farmers market this summer. Another of his cousins managed his cucumber crop and sold produce at the farm market in Ada. “We’re starting to call it the enclave because of how much family is involved in it,” Bylsma said. Real Food Farm’s retail business will be open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call 847-736-3008.
Ben Bylsma has been working toward his place in the Michigan farm landscape since middle school when he started working in greenhouses in Holland. Meanwhile in Caledonia, a former dairy farm turned into a flower operation. Three and a half years ago, Ben, his wife Kristen and his aunt and uncle startedReal Food Farms and purchased the flower farm.
After graduating from Calvin College, time in the Peace Corps, and working for Mixed Greens and Trillium Haven, Ben was ready to own his own farm. They still sell flowers in the spring. His interest in food grew in college, specifically how to shrink the amount of miles from farm to kitchen. And, he wanted a farm and homestead that was no more than 20 minutes from the center of Grand Rapids.
He’s also interested in the extension of the growing season, so the greenhouses on the property were an important component. Real Food Farms has the first tomatoes and cucumbers; the tomatoes are hydroponic. They’re available starting in early May through autumn. He uses conventional fertilizers and aims to be a no-spray farm. The latter is dependent on how it goes with what he calls his nemesis: powdery mildew.
They grow bell peppers in the summer and fall. Their winter crops are grown in the greenhouses and include kale, collard greens, and Swiss chard. His greens season ends about the time that the outdoor growers begin theirs.
Fresh 100% Homegrown
Real Food Farm was started in 2010 in an effort to meet the needs for locally sourced produce during a greater part of the year than is normally possible with Michigan’s seasonality. They’ve focused on supplying several local farmers’ markets, as well as a number of restaurants in the Grand Rapids area. They’re dedicated to supplying healthy, fresh, and delicious produce to our customers. Running the farmers’ markets is Ben’s favorite thing to do. He enjoys having a strong connection with each and every consumer he meets.
Real Food FarmCaledonia, MI
This local farm is devoted to providing good food to the surrounding area. When the growing season ends, Real Food Farm doesn’t stop! Greenhouses with hydroponic systems keep things growing year-round. Harvesting tomatoes in April? You can count on it!
HAPPY FARMERS, HAPPY PRODUCE
Our line of produce is only as strong as the relationship we have with the farmers who grow it. These farmers believe in their product wholeheartedly and we built our whole business around their efforts.Having the best is a little easier to do when you surround yourself with the best sources.
OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH LOCAL FARMERS IS THE HEART OF OUR BUSINESS, AND JUST LIKE THEIR PRODUCE, THE LIST IS ALWAYS GROWING.
Blandford FarmGrand Rapids, MI
Ann Arbor Seed Co.Ann Arbor, MI
Groundswell FarmZeeland, MI
Rakowski Family FarmWayland, MI
Full Hollow FarmBelding, MI
New City Urban FarmGrand Rapids, MI
Real Food FarmCaledonia, MI
Mud Lake FarmHudsonville, MI
Hilhof Farm DairyHersey, MI
Source: Relish Green Grocer
Grove | Earth to Table
Real Food Farm, Caledonia, MI
Real Family Farm focuses on producing delicious and nutritious vegetables for the local community, and even sell hanging baskets and vegetable plants in the spring. The health of their customers is of their utmost priority. READ MORE
FARMERS MARKET EDUCATION SESSION: GREAT LAKES FRUIT, VEGETABLE AND FARM MARKET EXPO – GRAND RAPIDS, MIPosted on November 23, 2015 by CollinsThe Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA) will be hosting a series of educational sessions at the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo in Grand Rapids, MI on Thursday, December 10.
Devos Place Conference Center303 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
Thurs. Dec 109:00 a.m. ESTFarmers Markets: Retail Concepts from Malls and Main Street — Lessons for Farmers MarketsWhere: Gallery Overlook (upper level) Room A & BFarmers put a great deal of thought into where they sell their products taking into consideration the customer base, location, and other businesses present - their competitors. When farmers and other food and ag-based businesses choose to locate in close proximity to one another (the concept of co-location), it creates competition but also is very important in fostering retail synergy. Learn more about retail concepts and ways that farmers can be smart about healthy business competition, strategic display, and increasing product diversity to bring more shoppers to market.Moderator: Amanda Shreve, Manager of Programs and Partnerships, Michigan Farmers Market Association, East Lansing, MI
9:00 am Retail Concepts from Malls and Main Street: Lessons for Farmers Markets Mark Miller, AIA AICP, Senior Architect and Urban Planner, Nederveld, Grand Rapids, MI
10:00 am Farmer and Farmers Market Panel Rachelle Bostwick, Earthkeeper Farm, Kent City, MIBen Bylsma, Real Food Farm, Caledonia, MIMelissa Harrington, Executive Director Fulton Street Farmers Market, Grand Rapids, MI11:00 am Session Ends
Thurs. Dec 10
11:15 a.m. ESTFarmers Markets: Providing Samples to Engage Consumers and Increase SalesWhere: Gallery Overlook (upper level) Room A & BLearn how to provide safe food samples to attract shoppers, increase their awareness on how to use your products, and make a sale. Learn what you can and cannot do with out a license. Best practices will be shared as well as materials you can use, like recipe cards, to complement your effortsModerator: Amanda Shreve, Manager of Programs and Partnerships, Michigan Farmers Market Association, East Lansing, MI
11:15 am Providing Samples to Engage Consumers and Increase Sales Samantha Collins, MIFMA Communications Manager, E. Lansing, MI
12:00 noon Session Ends This entry was posted in News by Collins. Bookmark the permalink.