Great American Farms
Across the Country
It's an especially warm and sunny day at Farmer Mike's U-Pick and everyone is smiling. It's the day after Christmas, 87 degrees and the fresh fragrance of fruits and vegetables can be detected for miles. Located in the Southwest Florida city of Bonita Springs on a stretch of 40 acres, Farmer Mike’s is owned by father-and-son partners Mike Clevenger and Mike Clevenger Jr., third- and fourth-generation farmers, respectively.
Per the USDA Economic Research Service, of the 2.1 million farms in the United States in 2016, 99 percent were family-owned operations, accounting for 89 percent of all farm production. Ninety percent of the farms like Farmer Mike's U-Pick are in the small family farm category, operating on nearly half of the farmland.
Farmer Mike’s is a source of pride for the tight-knit Bonita Springs community, and it’s just south of the Citrus Park subdivision, which is more than fitting. Of course, oranges are sold—they’ll ship them anywhere in the country—plus watermelon, strawberries, blueberries, yellow squash, peppers, purple eggplant, red leaf lettuce, heirloom tomatoes, flowers, herbs and more. In all, Farmer Mike’s sells approximately 140 items, which includes non-produce products like house-made honey, jams and hot sauce.
On this summer-like morning, the grounds are swelling with customers. They’re either shopping at the open-air market, picking their own strawberries or flowers in a designated area, or filling up on hearty breakfasts at picnic tables under a giant Christmas tree. On the menu: hot cakes topped with strawberry preserves, skillet potatoes dotted with red and yellow peppers and eggs Benedict drizzled with Hollandaise sauce made on premises. Head here for lunch and get ready for heaving garden salads, fish tacos and strawberry milkshakes so thick the only way to consume them is with a spoon.
Farmer Mike’s U-Pick participates in more than 10 local farmers’ markets, but that’s a pale comparison to the experience at the farm. It’s an event, a day-long excursion for families, schools and even chefs, who want the freshest of produce.
Tim Kolanko of San Diego-based Blue Bridge Hospitality (Leroy’s Kitchen & Lounge, Stake Chophouse & Bar, Village Pizzeria) is a big fan of family farmers and he frequents quite a few in his area. He believes it’s chefs’ responsibility to support them.
“A big part of my perspective is supporting local farmers, keeping money in the local economy,” says Kolanko. “I feel that as chefs we have a responsibility to do that.” To demonstrate his dedication, he partnered with Stehly Farms Organic, a 300-acre avocado and citrus farm in San Diego's North County last fall for a Thanksgiving promotion.
One of Kolanko’s restaurants was the designated location for customers to pick up pre-ordered heirloom turkeys, which were provided by the farm. He further helped Stehly by whipping up side dishes made from the farm’s produce like candied sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and sautéed butternut squash to accompany the turkeys. It was a great cross-promotion, he says, that he’s planning to repeat this year.
And though he doesn’t work with Chino Farm, located in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., Kolanko is an admirer of the family-owned operation. The Chino family emigrated from Japan in the early 1920s, were interned after World War II in Arizona, then returned to California to establish the 56-acre farm. The farm is best known for sweet corn, strawberries and tomatoes, which may be purchased six days a week at a stand on-site. Famed chef/food activist Alice Walker is a major supporter of Chino.
More Great American Farms Across the Country
B & B Farms (Petal, Miss.)
The farm, which has been owned by Ben Burkett’s family since 1889, is situated on 296 acres. It grows fruits (honeydew melons, watermelons), vegetables (greens, onions, okra, squash, turnips), herbs (basil, parsley, sage) and timber.
Mick Klug Farm (St. Joseph, Mich.)
A veteran vendor at Chicago farmers’ markets for more than 35 years, the 120-acre Klug Farm grows a large variety of fruits and vegetables, including peaches, berries, purple asparagus, peas and cherries.
Miller Farms (Platteville, Colo.)
The farm’s been around since 1949 on 180 acres of fields. They’re growing four varieties of potatoes—red, white, blue and Yukon Gold—plus watermelon, onions, corn and peaches.
Kinnikinnick Farm (Caledonia, Ill.)
In addition to growing organic produce and raising pastured pork and beef, the family at Kinnikinnick provides accommodations for those wishing to experience farming life firsthand. The Rustic FeatherDown Farm tents are where guests stay.
Sage Farm Goat Dairy (Stowe, Vt.)
A sister-and-brother partnership has been formed to raise goats for beautifully crafted cheeses. There are also goats for sale, as well as maple syrup, cider and eggs.
Willowood Farm of Ebey's Prairie (Coupeville, Wash.)
The fourth-generation farm grows organic produce like heirloom tomatoes and new potatoes on Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve. They plant more than 200 varieties of vegetables on 12 acres.