It is noon on a scorching Sunday, but there is work to be done at Maple Creek Farm in Yale, MI. Michelle Lutz is washing head after head of fresh-picked broccoli, preparing it for cold storage until it is time for boxes to be packed for the CSA members’ weekly share. The sun is beating down and the heat is merciless, but the shelter under where she works provides a small relief. When asked what time she got up that morning, she says without a trace of jest, “Oh, I let myself sleep in until 5 today.” Usually she is up at 3 or 4am, and on Fridays, when she must be at the Royal Oak Farmer’s Market by 4am, she is up at 1. Her work day usually ends around 6pm, but this can vary as well.
Michelle and Danny Lutz bought Maple Creek Farm in 1994, and began the CSA in 1995. It was Danny’s idea to farm and start a CSA, although at the time they didn’t know what a CSA was. “We always had the idea that we wanted to grow shares for people…we didn’t know there was a name for it until two years in when a customer told us about a book called Farms of Tomorrow. We were actually a bit disappointed that we didn’t think of it first!” Neither of them had farming experience, but they started small and learned as they went. In 1999 they became a certified organic farm. An article about the farm was printed in the Detroit Free Press that same year and membership jumped from 100 to 300 CSA members. Today they have about 495 members, and distribute about 600 boxes per week among over 25 drop-off points in the metro Detroit area.
As she walks around the fields of her 60+ acre farm, Michelle points out the varieties of produce growing: tomatoes, corn, summer squash, kohlrabi, kale, herbs and lettuces, and many more are planted by hand and maintained by Michelle and Danny, their three daughters, and a full to part-time staff of six. “We also have a volunteer who comes once a week to make boxes for us—it doesn’t sound like much, but it really helps us out a lot.” She points out the attachment for their tractor used to plant the acres, which is essentially two seats with a large, notched wheel between them that creates holes in the ground to place young plants. “It’s a great ab workout. We switch seats between rows to work both sides!”
Her sense of humor and easygoing manner are a contrast to the hard work and dedication she and her family and staff put into the farm. Indeed, despite the emphasis she puts on the unpredictability of farming to all her customers, Maple Creek Farm has provided the promised 20 weeks of deliveries to their members for all but one week in their 16 years of being in business. And, in spite of the cold spring which gave them a late start providing shares this year, they are working their hardest to ensure they deliver. It is certainly this dedication to their members which explains their solid 40-50% membership renewal each year. In addition to supplying CSA members, they also sell produce at the Royal Oak Farmer’s Market, and they provide Henry’s at Henry Ford Hospital in West Bloomfield with produce for their kitchen, something Michelle is particularly proud of as they are the first farm to do so. “I had always wanted to supply a hospital with fresh food—it was on my life list”, she says. They also give any surplus to Forgotten Harvest, and give CSA members the option of donating their weekly share to Forgotten Harvest if they are going on vacation.
When asked what the best part of the farm is for her, she lists several things. “I love when members try something they have never had before and give me feedback,” she says. She loves having families return each year, and having their children identify with her as the farmer who grows their food. She has noticed an increased interest in organic food over the years, even with the economic bust, but feels there should be more efforts towards educating people to eat locally and seasonally. With more and more people seeking out local farms, and meeting people as concerned about the Michigan land and its people as Michelle and Danny Lutz, such a change is entirely possible.