Cultivating Happiness

FAMILY AFFAIR: Left; The Grant family; Thomas, Connie, and son, Owen on the left along with daughter Leanna, son, Nick and nephew, Ted Grant, stand next to their tractor load of fresh picked sweet corn. Each tractor load of sweet corn is approximately 36 dozen. The Grant's fill their farm truck with three tractor loads of corn twice a week to be sold at the farmer's market in downtown Big Rapids. (Pioneer photo/Lonnie Allen)

FAMILY AFFAIR: Left; The Grant family; Thomas, Connie, and son, Owen on the left along with daughter Leanna, son, Nick and nephew, Ted Grant, stand next to their tractor load of fresh picked sweet corn. Each tractor load of sweet corn is approximately 36 dozen. The Grant’s fill their farm truck with three tractor loads of corn twice a week to be sold at the farmer’s market in downtown Big Rapids. (Pioneer photo/Lonnie Allen)

Bounty of sweet corn and more from family labor

RODNEY — The end of summer is at hand, but the bounty of summer crops is starting to make it to our kitchen tables.

Sweet corn, peppers, tomatoes, beans and more fill farm stands throughout Mecosta County. As the mid-Michigan sweet corn harvest comes into its peak, Connie Grant will tell you this is her family’s busiest time of year.

“Sweet corn and the pumpkins; those two crops keep us moving around here,” Grant said.

Grant is a staple at the downtown farmer’s market in Big Rapids. The Grant family owns 66 acres of farm land in Rodney known as Grant’s Family Farm, 10636 14 Mile Road. They have been farming the land since 2006.

The family began growing Christmas trees first. To make people aware of the cut-your-own Christmas tree business, the family began growing pumpkins and squash.

“The idea was when people would stop for pumpkins they also would learn about our Christmas trees,” Grant said.

The first year of pumpkins was a success and the following year would be the first year for the farmer’s market in downtown Big Rapids. The farmer’s market would be a big influence to the Grant’s and the direction they would go as a family farm.

From strawberries and asparagus in the spring to melons and sweet corn as summer ends, the family cultivates farm-to-table produce year round for Mecosta County.

“People like local farm grown food,” Grant said. “Meijer, Walmart, Sav-a-lot are all good, but is it something they picked yesterday and put on their shelf. What I bring to the market comes out of our field within 24 to 36 hours before I come to the market. People want that.”

At the downtown Big Rapids Farmer’s Market Grant’s is known throughout the area for its pumpkins and sweet corn.

“We started with different vegetables and flowers at the market,” Grant said. “Each year we looked at what people wanted most and determined what we could grow best.”

Her knowledge of the farm stems from her husband, Thomas. She says he is the one who loves to farm.

“His heart is in farming,” Grant said. “He is happy cultivating the land.”

Grant, a transplant from the suburbs of Grand Rapids, is not green when it comes to gardening.

“My folks always had a garden and my grandparents had a huge garden,” Grant said. “Gardening is something I grew up with. We lived in the city, but we had those little lots and we gardened. My dad still has a garden.”

Before Grant’s Family Farm, Grant was employed as an office manager for an asphalt company, she said.

“We were married and Tom was driving gravel trains and cement trucks,” Grant said. “We lived on the north end of Grand Rapids before Tom got a job in Big Rapids with the department of public works. He moved back and I came with him.”

Thomas was raised in Mecosta County and his parents still own the property next to their farm.

“Tom already owned the land before we moved,” Grant said.

Today, the couple runs the farm with their children, Nick, 14, Leanna, 11 and Owen, 7.

“It’s 100 percent family,” Thomas said. “Each of us does our part to make this work.”

The family has 66 acres — 10 acres are Christmas trees and 5 to 6 more acres are used for the vegetables sold at the market and the rest is other field crops.

“A majority of the crop is the sweet corn,” Thomas said. “I have eight plantings to ensure a continuous run of fresh sweet corn for eight weeks. My last planting of sweet corn is the last week of June.”

Thomas begins his first planting of sweet corn in late May when the soil reaches the proper temperature to germinate.

“Before I plant I take a soil reading to make sure the soil temperature is above 60 degrees for successful germination,” Thomas said. “A wide variety of soils is suitable. It is important that the soil be well drained and well supplied with organic matter, though.”

Throughout the summer the family tends to the fields and prepares for the first harvest. As the corn harvest begins in mid-August, Thomas balances work and farming by picking early in the morning or late evening when it is cooler.

“I leave work to come home and work,” Thomas said. “Depending on what needs to be done is where I start.”

Everyone in the family works to make sure things run smoothly, from planting to harvest, Grant said.

“We work as a family,” Grant said. “There are some days the kids don’t want to come out, but we talk about it and we get the work done. Not every day is spent in the garden, though.”

Once picking starts the family will make sure there is enough corn to stock their farm stand and then each picking will center around the farmer’s market in Big Rapids.

Connie prepares the truck and trailer she will drive to Big Rapids to sell their produce each Monday and Thursday. While she is getting the truck stocked for the market with her son, Owen; Thomas, Nick and Leanna are in the field picking sweet corn to ensure freshness when people purchase their product.

“Each tractor load I estimate to have 36 to 38 dozen,” Thomas said.

In the field, Leanna drives the tractor with the bucket loader in the front that is soon to be brimming with fresh sweet corn as her dad and Nick snap ears of sweet corn off the stalk and toss them into the loader.

“I follow behind Nick in case he misses any that way we get each ear we can,” Thomas said. “We should get approximately 3,000 dozen this year.”

Thomas said he likes the atmosphere of working on the farm and selling produce to people. He gets to advertise his Christmas trees also.

He expects the stand will slow down around late September.

The stand has served more new customers this year than previous years, Grant said. She loves to sell their sweet corn at the farmers market because it’s like hanging out with friends.

“As they shop, people bump into their neighbors and friends and chat,” Grant said. “It is a social gathering where we all come and spend our Tuesdays and Thursdays together.”

avatar

Posted by Lonnie Allen

Lonnie is the Pioneer's city/county reporter. He also coordinates the Gardens and Growers page. He can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8328 or by e-mail at lallen@pioneergroup.com.

Leave a Reply