Multigenerational family farms in mid Michigan create a special legacy for everyone involved

This story on agriculture in the mid-Michigan region is sponsored by Krapohl Ford & Lincoln.
Jessica Bryant has many happy memories of growing up on a farm.

“I loved it,” she says. “I was involved as much as I could. It was just very cool working beside my parents and my sister. I would not have traded that lifestyle for anything.”

Now, Bryant is raising her children the same way at Bryant Family Farm in Shepherd—where it’s a true multigenerational effort. 

For example, Bryant’s husband, Ben, works to raise crops each year.
“He farms with his dad,” she explains. “They have their own acres, but they share all their equipment and their time: they do it together.”
“Ben's grandpa has been ‘retired’ for several years,” Bryant adds with a chuckle. “But he still drives a tractor every day for us.” 
And when her kids aren’t in school or on the t-ball field? They are a part of life on the farm, too.
“They're always out with us,” Bryant says. “When we're taking care of the animals or planting the garden or whatever, they're there. They're always there.”
Aside from the field crops like soybeans, corn, and wheat, the Bryants grow hundreds of mums and raise chickens, beef cows, and fainting goats. In late winter each year, both sides of the Bryants’ families pitch in to make maple syrup.
“My sister, my mom, both Ben’s sisters, his dad, my dad, his grandpa and all the kids—seven kids out there in the woods with us all spring,” she says. “It’s just really cool to have everybody coming out and spending time together and helping us get the job done because we couldn't do it without their help.”
Families like the Bryants aren’t necessarily unique. In fact, a recent report by the USDA shows that 96% of all U.S. farms are family farms—but that doesn’t make what they do any less special.
“I can't imagine doing anything else,” Bryant says. “It's just the bonds that you create with the family, along with teaching them the responsibility and how to care for the land and the animals. It's so great that we get to be able to share that with our kids and that they get to work alongside us. I don't even know how to put that into words!

Photo courtesy of the Aldrich family and Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm

In Clare, the Aldrich family feels a similar sentiment—even though their day-to-day life at Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm looks a little bit different from the Bryants’ experience.
“Christmas is a big deal in our family—it's always been a big part of our family life,” explains family patriarch, Dave Aldrich. “I had the opportunity to buy some reindeer. I jumped on it. And that's when things really took off.”
Today, the family has a herd of 20 reindeer, along with alpacas, Highland mini cows, and even a sloth. They also welcome thousands of visitors each year around the holidays.
“Everybody's happy when they come here,” Aldrich says. “Everybody's happy to see the reindeer and see Santa Claus and you know, we've got the sights and the smells of the holiday season.”
But Aldrich is quick to point out that he couldn’t do it without his sons, Scott and Danny, and grandson, Dawson.
“I'm the guy that stands out here and talks to people all day,” Aldrich laughs. “They do all the real work.”
In fact, Aldrich says Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm has been a family effort right from the start.
“When Danny was young—probably in middle school—is when I got the first animals. So, he would help take care of them back then. And we kind of learned the business together,” he shares.
Danny is now the owner, running the farm with his wife, Corrie Jo, and their 16-year-old son, Dawson. Danny’s brother, Scott, also helps with the day-to-day care of the animals, along with heading up the operation’s customer experience and development projects.
“My brother and I—we're eight years apart. So, growing up, we weren't super close because we were different ages,” Scott Aldrich says. “But I think we're a lot closer now. We're opposite in a lot of ways but have a lot of respect for what the other can bring to the table. So that's been a huge benefit.”
Dawson Aldrich says he has been working on the family farm for as long as he can remember.
“You wake up, [do] morning chores, go to school, try not to have homework, and come home and work on the farm,” he says, listing his typical day activities. “I like being outside. I love working with animals. I don't like to stare at a screen all day.”
“We depend on him for a lot around the farm,” Dave Aldrich adds with pride. “He does a good share of the physical work around here.”
And that doesn’t just mean at Christmastime.

“We're open and busy certain times of the year,” Danny Aldrich says. “But that work is there 365 days a year. The animals always have to be fed and always have to be cared for. And they don't care what the weather is, or that it's a holiday, or that you have other things to do. Things have to be taken care of. It's not the type of business where you just clock out and go home.”
“You have to love it,” Danny adds, noting his wife also deserves a lot of credit for working at the farm along with her full-time job. “I'm home at about nine o’clock every night. We’re eating dinner when most people are probably already in bed, but it's just the way it is.”
But all of the members of the Aldrich family say that it’s worth it.
“You just feel like you're part of something bigger,” Scott Aldrich says. “It's kind of cool to see fans come from all over the country that just want to take a picture with my dad or people in awe of the things that my brother has built here at the farm or just the experiences we're able to have. The magic that my brother and my nephew work with the animals every single day. It's just kind of incredible to be a part of all that.”

Photo courtesy of the Henson family and Doodles Sugarbush
Liz Henson also knows what it’s like to be a part of something bigger than herself. She says she got her start in her family’s Blanchard maple syrup business, Doodles Sugarbush, very early on.

“I think I was like two weeks old,” she says with a laugh. ”Mom and Dad took me to a craft show. And everyone was shocked that such a little baby was at the show. But you know, what are they gonna do? Gotta make ends meet somehow!”

“I remember my mom and dad saying that they used to put me in a swing in the sugar house when I was a baby while they were making syrup. I would be entertained watching them,” the 20-year-old continues. “My first memory is bottling in our old sugar house–putting shrink bands over the jars to make sure they are sealed and putting them on the table.” 

Liz’s mom, Lynette, says she and her husband, Steve, got involved in producing maple syrup by accident when they purchased a home on 60 acres of maple trees in the late 90s.

“I did have a background in farming, but not maple syrup by any stretch,” Lynette says. “It just honestly was kind of something that was fun. We started making some syrup, and we started selling it at different street fairs and some craft fairs—just a little bit of extra cash on top of our day jobs.”

But after a while, the Hensons were able to leave their full-time jobs and make a living as small business owners. Today, their products can be found in over 300 stores in Michigan and other states. And, through it all, their daughter, Liz, has never been far away from the action. 

“​​I'm an only child. So I'm around my parents all the time,” Liz says, adding that she loves being able to literally work from home. “It's like 20 feet away from the house. I don't have to worry about a commute. I just walk over to the sugar house and start working.”

Liz is also a college student at Northwood University, studying entrepreneurship—a field she feels ready to tackle, given her unique upbringing.

“I get compliments all the time that I have such a strong work ethic,” she says. “And it's definitely from my parents and watching them and watching this business. When it came to choosing what college I wanted to go to, and what I wanted to study, it was literally crystal clear.” 

“This summer, I'm taking an internship for the business,” she adds. “And I'm taking on a stronger role to learn more about the background of the business, like how to handle all the books and ordering things and handling orders and things like that—instead of being just like a traditional employee that I've always been.”
Lynette says that she and her husband are proud of the legacy they have created for their daughter.

“We started with absolutely nothing,” she says. “This is something that we've created all by ourselves, and we're excited that she wants to take it over.”

Photo courtesy of Bryant Family Farm

Three families. Three very different businesses, but all of them create a family bond of hard work and a legacy they’ll leave behind.

For Jessica Bryant of Bryant Family Farm, the opportunity has created lasting family ties.

“There definitely sometimes are additional challenges to working together,” she says. “But you're never closer. You're working alongside your family. Every day. You get the bonds that the children have with their grandparents and their cousins and aunts and uncles, and it is really special to us—all working together. I don't think there's anything better, and there's no way to be closer to God and to the earth than to care for it like we do.”

Doodles Sugarbush’s Liz Henson says she’s thankful for the chance to make an impact on others.

“Whenever we go to these craft shows, I get to see the smiles on people's faces when they get to try our syrup,” she says. “And that's pretty rewarding, because it's nice to feel like you're making a difference.” 

Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm’s Dave Aldrich agrees.

 “I'm a lucky guy!”
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Read more articles by Sarah R. Adams-Slominski.

Sarah R. Adams-Slominski is an award-winning multimedia producer and writer with over 20 years of experience. She has also designed and taught multimedia and communication courses for university students, as well as media relations and marketing seminars for clients she coaches across the United States. In 2020, she began work on a doctorate and is now concentrating on dissertation research in educational technology and new literacies while working as a freelance writer, editor, and adjunct college instructor. When she has some downtime, Sarah loves reading, cooking, and swimming—as well as hanging out with friends, family, and her fiancé at home with two giant cats.