Eighth Day Farm makes big impact from its small urban setting

It is an unlikely spot for a farm. Yet the parking lot on the east side of what was once Holland’s answer to the outlet mall craze is now home to Eighth Day Farm’s 2-acre main location. 

Smaller gardens at Zion Lutheran Church and on farmland behind the Pilot gas station north of Hamilton complete the farm’s land base.

“It is a good mid-use of this space,” says Farm Manager Andy Rozendaal. “We realize that someday it will be used for another purpose, a building, or whatever, but for now, we use it to grow healthy food for our community through a lease agreement with the owners.”

Initially, the blacktop was removed, and topsoil and compost brought in to provide a fertile home for growing plants. The farm utilizes natural and biological pest and weed control measures. The farm operates under the Certified Naturally Grown label and is peer-reviewed for following organic guidelines by other farmers within the organization. This option produces the same result as a certified organic production model, but at a lower cost.

Uniquely urban

The small farm has a big impact, providing 110 full community supported agriculture (CSA) shares to its members, who are all part of the farm’s community. A share provides a weekly box to members and typically contains a cooking green, salad green, herb, root vegetable, and whatever else is ready for harvest. It is adequate — with a small additional amount needed from a grocer — for the basic needs of a four-person family.

Andy Rozendaal harvests tomatoes in preparation for CSA pick up. harvests tomatoes in preparation for CSA pick up.
Jeff and Melissa Roessing founded the farm in 2011, building it around CSA production and nonprofit business models. Jeff Roessing, then a student at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, saw the needs in his neighborhood for fresh, healthy food. He desired to live out his faith intentionally through caring for people and the Earth simultaneously. Urban gardening was the answer to his calling.

Since 2018, the farm has been in the hands of Rozendaal and Project Manager John Puttrich. 

Rozendaal combines the background of being a former pastor and a degree in agriculture from Iowa State University for the right mix to manage both the philosophy and production of Eighth Day Farm. 

Puttrich, a former farm intern, blends his skills in the field with leading and incorporating projects such as organizing the food waste club, learning events, and the Urban Youth Growers jobs program through Escape Ministries of Zeeland.

Love people, love creation

At the core of the farm’s values lies the principle of caring for all of creation — nature, Earth, and the people that inhabit Earth. Food is the connection between the earth and people, and good, healthy, organically raised food is the product of the farm’s labor in love.

Through the farm’s food waste club, food scraps from a few local businesses are collected and turned into compost. The program is an asset in turning waste back to fertilizer and keeping food waste from entering landfills, where it adds to harmful gas production. CSA members may take a compost share for their own use. 

“It generates a little bit of money and is another way we complete the carbon cycle, and care for the full circle of creation,” Rozendaal says.

Partners in produce

Donating to food pantries has been a staple for the farm since its beginning, with a minimum of 10% of the farm’s production going into the hands of those who are food insecure.

COVID-19 brought new challenges in food security for the unemployed, and business insecurity for small farms, which had been selling to institutions and restaurants until schools, food service, and other businesses closed this spring.

A local farm relief grant was initiated by Harvest Stand Ministries in Zeeland, in partnership with Community Action House, The Salvation Army, St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, Ottawa Food, and Spectrum Health Zeeland Hospital.

Craig Schrotenboer of Harvest Stand Ministries challenged the community to raise $40,000 to provide financial security for struggling small farms and food security for consumers by providing fresh produce to food pantries supplied by CAH, Salvation Army, and St. Francis de Sales. 

A ton of produce

Seven farms sell a combined ton of top-quality fresh produce each week through the grant. Schrotenboer gathers the harvest and distributes it to the food pantries. 

“This is a win-win for the farmers, who saw their markets disappear, and for low-income people in need,” he says.

Both Schrotenboer and Rozendaal hope the program will continue once the pandemic ends. 

“We are able to get fresh, high-quality produce right into the consumers’ hands, where most of the time, donated produce is on its last legs by the time it hits food pantries,” Schrotenboer says.

“We love working with Eighth Day Farm; we love the produce they have, and we love the organic farm,” he says. “They provide a wonderful blend of product for us to select from and are great partners to work with.”

“Buying direct from local farms keeps money local,” Rozendaal says. “It is turned over very quickly — and many times — when dollars remain in the community.”

“Honestly, we are better at starting projects than we are at finishing them,” Rozendaal says.

“That is why we are good partners. We are great at growing the food, but we are not equipped to distribute through food pantries or prepare fully cooked meals. We leave that to the partners, like Community Action House, who are better able to handle that aspect of our community.”

Student involvement

Urban Youth Growers is a partnership with Escape Ministries, which equips marginalized teens and young adults to be community leaders. 

The partnership provides job skills training combined with a job working on the farm for about 12 hours per week to students involved with Escape. 

Puttrich supervises and teaches students how to grow food and about the economic realities of food production, and tries to connect them to their place in the cycle of production and consumption. 

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