Good Stead Farm brings USDA certified organic crop to Midland region

Located about twenty minutes northwest of Midland in Hope, Michigan, you will find Good Stead Farm. Spread across five acres, the farm is one of the first legally certified completely organic operations in the area and offers a source of vegetables, dairy and protein for the community.

Sarah Longstreth grew up in Midland, Michigan. After college, she apprenticed at different farms both nationally and internationally, learned dairy production, and eventually worked her way to managing a farm in northern Maine. Finally, after being away from the region for nearly twelve years, she returned to her hometown to start a farm of her own, right where she grew up.

“When you buy a pint of cherry tomatoes from us, I can tell you exactly where that money is going. When you support local farmers, you support hiring apprentices or paying for the propane that heats our greenhouse or the feed we need for the chickens and the ducks,” says Longstreth, owner and manager of Good Stead Farm. “There is a lot of value in localizing food and food production.”

The farm manages sales in a few different ways, offering fifty summer and winter Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares, where families sign up to pick up an allotted assortment of vegetables every week throughout the season. Produce from the farm is also available at the Midland Area Farmers market from May through October, and following that at a Friday morning market hosted at the farm itself.

“Our model is direct to consumer. I make a living, every year, on one acre of certified organic vegetables,” says Longstreth. “I don’t have other sources of income — this is my livelihood.”

The farm also sources ingredients to several area restaurants such as Harless + Hugh Public House in Bay City as well Midland’s H Hotel eateries, Table and Cafe Zinc, both of which choose to work with local, organic options when available.

“If you were just sending food out and you never got to see who it went to, I think it would be very different,” says Longstreth. “People will come to the farm and pick. We know them and they know us, which is really nice — to know who is growing your food, or who is consuming what we produce. There’s pleasure to be taken out of it aside from that immediate economic transaction.”

In addition to growing over forty different types of vegetables, the farm offers organic chicken and duck eggs, meat and wool from lamb, herbs and flowers to pick as well as natural products from a variety of local vendors.

“We were the first certified organic producers in the farmers market and in Midland county as far as I know,” says Longstreth. “My extended family were all farmers, but the culture of agriculture around here is very male focused. There is usually an emphasis on a singular, commodity crop. We are hoping to change that perception and create a new association of what ‘organic’ really means.”

In order to maintain certification, Longstreth describes the intensive process they go through. For example, the hens — to be considered organic — are purchased from the hatchery as young as a one-day old chick. For the first few days they subsist on the egg yolk they are hatched in while they are shipped. This is so that when they arrive at Good Stead Farm, the first bit of feed they ever receive is certified organic grain. In addition, all of the additional inputs, like the hay for grazing, the bedding, the grains fed to livestock, are also organic. When it comes to vegetables, Longstreth and her team hand pick pests or weeds off the crops to ensure no external chemicals are used.

“It is a very intense way of farming, with a high turnover of crops. We plant all throughout the season — April through September,” explains Longstreth. “Each seed comes with it’s own set of needs and constraints. There’s a lot of maintenance that goes into it.”

The hard work doesn’t go unnoticed, as Longstreth has gained many loyal supporters of her craft.

“It is very important for us to work with people who are growing quality ingredients and there is so much to be said for the flavor and freshness of something local,” said Lyndsay Edmonds, owner of both Harless + Hugh Coffee and Harless + Hugh Public House in Bay City. “Sourcing quality ingredients, like an heirloom vegetable or a locally-made spirit, is something that changes the entire dining experience. It is also better for the environment and uses sustainable practices, which promote ecological diversity, while also helping us showcase the best product we can.”

When asked about primarily being a female-managed farm in the area, Longstreth describes the support she’s received from her family and the community. Her grandmother and mother also help out full time at the farm, managing the greenhouse and wash station.

“The greenhouse is the first step. Everything we do throughout the season hinges on what happens in the greenhouse,” says Longstreth. “The women in my family are very much part of what we do here.”

The process — from seeding to harvesting — is carefully planned and charted out through a series of spreadsheets every winter. Longstreth calculates everything from the number of seeds to purchase to the exact time each seed will be planted and is expected to harvest.

“I’m amazed by all the knowledge Sarah has. Everything from what kind of bed is this and whether it is good or bad for the plant to the chemistry of how the seeds will react to knowledge of insects, critters and all the other factors,” says Julia Kuhns, an apprentice on the farm for the 2017 season. “It’s not just sticking the plant in ground. There is so much that goes into every step, even something as seemingly simple as getting the ground ready.”

Unlike Lonsgreth, Kuhns didn’t grow up surrounded by farming. Instead after graduating, she happened upon Good Stead Farm through a series of web searches.

“I don’t have any family that are farmers. I grew up in the suburbs of the Twin Cities. No one says ‘Hey you can be a farmer,’” says Kuhns. “But I knew I wanted to work with my hands and learn physical and technical skills.”

From assisting with animal chores at sunrise every morning to managing the CSA share pickups, Kuhns emphasizes how much she has been able to learn throughout the course of this season. Customers at the farm echo the same sentiment.

“Our kids can come and be a part of it too. Sarah will show them parts of the process, and they learn what it means to harvest an egg from a chicken or how pests affect the crops,” says Christin Greiman, strategy professor at Northwood University and Good Stead Farm customer. “We have been coming to this farm since it opened nearly three years ago, and we love it.”

Good Stead Farm operates mostly year round, providing eggs and protein throughout the winter and produce along with seasonal availability. You can read more about Sarah and the happenings at Good Stead Farm here.
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