Family farms hang on in Macomb County

Perhaps nothing tastes better at a summer barbeque than a fresh ear of corn and some red plumb tomatoes right off the vine. Delivering those gifts to local families has been a tradition for in Macomb County farms for generations. But recent market changes and a very wet spring are making life a bit harder for area farmers who are already used to living a hard life.

 

“It’s been a bummer, the hay I’m just getting to now should have been done a month ago, and what’s the old saying? ’If the corn crop is not knee-high by Fourth of July’... well it’s just bad,” Gordon McKay, a member of the Oakland County Farm Bureau board, says. “But if it stays hot and dry in July it’ll be okay, the corn and beans will make it.”

Apiaries at Youngblood Farms. Photo by David Lewinski.

 

Macomb County Farm Bureau President Amanda Kutchey says farming in Macomb County is definitely shrinking in numbers as older farmers are retiring and younger generations have moved off the farm or work within the agricultural community. The top commodities in the county are horticulture (greenhouses), and fruits/vegetables, and then grain crops (corn/soybean).

 
But she says she believes farming will continue in Macomb County because of the deep roots the families have in the communities. She says they work hard year-round to care for the land so they can continue to be part of the community for the next generations to come.

 

“As our urban neighbors continue to move out into the country, we ask that everyone slow down for a tractor moving from field to field. They are working to produce the meals for their family and yours,” she says.

 

Metromode checked in with two family farms in northern Macomb County to see what life is like on the farm in Metro Detroit in 2019.

 

Kutchey Farms, Macomb Township

 

Kutchey is a member of a Macomb Township family that has operated a farm since 1962. Her grandparents, Joseph and Rita Kutchey, started the family farm in Warren and moved to the township when Kutchey’s father, Joe Kutchey was just three years old.

 

Today they farm 250 acres. Kutchey spends her nights and weekends helping her parents continue the farming tradition.

 

Kutchey Farms produces fresh fruits and vegetables, and they are known for their famous Kutchey sweet corn and tomatoes. The farm also produces strawberries, peppers, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, onions, potatoes, melons, and peppers.

 

While her parents maintain the day-to-day running of the farm, Kutchey’s brother and sister-in-law run the farm store on the property that has offered fresh-picked produce to a large customer base since 1989.

Youngblood Farms. Photo by David Lewinski.

 

But keeping a fourth-generation family farm going in 2019 has its challenges. One hurdle is the continued loss of land to development. While the Kutchey’s farm their own acreage, they also rely on leased land to grow even more crops. But that space is getting scarce as new subdivisions and strip malls encroach on the northern Macomb County landscape. Other significant challenges include accessing temporary farm labor and dealing with increased regulation, Kutchey says.

 

And as if all that weren’t enough, this spring the Kutchey’s found themselves dealing with high rainfall and cold temperatures that delayed the growing season.

 

“As you drive around northern Macomb County you will see field after field empty as the rains prevented thousands of acres of crops from being planted,” she says. “In Michigan, we cannot work the fields until the soil temperature gets high enough to allow the seedbeds to germinate and not kill off the young seeds; this year once the soil got to that point the rains started.”

Despite the challenges of maintaining a farm today, Kutchey says the most rewarding part remains to provide fresh, safe, locally grown food for their own family and the public.

 

“It’s just in our blood, and who we are, the ability to walk into the fields and grab a handful of strawberries as you check the crops, or just the quiet of the mornings before we start to pick corn. It gives us the ability to enjoy everything life has offered us,” Kutchey says.

 

Sherman Farm and Youngblood Vineyard, Ray Township

 

Sherman Farm, just off Ray Center Road in Ray Township, has harvested acres of soybeans, corn, wheat and for a time even some Christmas trees for the past six decades. Then in 2016, farmer David Youngblood, his wife Jessica and their three young children decided to trade in crops for grapes and launched a vineyard on the family’s 46-acre farm.

 

Youngblood explains that in order to make a decent return on soybean and corn crops, a farm has to include a lot more than just the 46 acres owned by Sherman Farm. “A wine vineyard is a much more profitable way to use the land, per acre,” he says.

 

Since the land had been mostly a Christmas tree farm the last few years, the family cleared 15 acres of what Youngblood calls “a huge overgrown forest” to create their vineyard. The process took nearly three years and involved removing hundreds of trees that had grown to be 60 to 70 feet tall.

 

“When you plant Christmas trees, you plant them close together, just two feet apart, so this involved a dense, overgrown forest,” Youngblood says.

 

As each acre of trees was removed, the family began to plant their vineyard, a task which included conducting soil testing and prepping the soil.

Youngblood Farms. Photo by David Lewinski.

 

Today, the Youngblood Vineyard has 25 acres of cold-climate grapevines, of which there are three white varieties and three red varieties. Currently growing are Marquette, Itasca, Frontenac, Frontenac Blanc, Prairie Star, and Petite Pearl.

 

The Vineyard opened over Memorial Day weekend and has a wine pavilion open to the public on Saturday and Sundays. They host private events as requested on other days during the week and their bottled wine has already started to make it to local market shelves.

 

Randazzo’s Fresh Markets are carrying the Youngblood Vineyard brand locally and feedback has been extremely positive, according to Youngblood.

 

“They say it’s going very well and they will be placing another order soon because people are definitely purchasing our wine,” he says.

 

As for the experience of creating a vineyard from scratch amidst raising a family, well, it might not be for everyone

 

“If a family is up for a big adventure that involves planting your own vineyard, the adventure is certainly huge,” Youngblood says. “And it’s certainly one you’ll never forget.”

 

For example, the weather this spring, when rained for weeks on end, is one part of the ever-changing adventure.

 

“We’re doing fine, but we are behind in a lot of the work that’s usually done by now in the fields,' says Youngblood. "But we’re getting it all done.”

 
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