Couple bet their farm on ‘green’ community

‘Lettuce’ introduce you to newest regular vendor at Rockford’s Farm Market. The market is held each Saturday in downtown Rockford.

‘Lettuce’ introduce you to newest regular vendor at Rockford’s Farm Market. The market is held each Saturday in downtown Rockford.

by CLIFF and NANCY HILL

Last summer The Rockford Squire published a series of articles highlighting a cross-section of vendors at the Rockford Farm Market. There were no plans to continue the series this year, but a young couple has recently been awarded a coveted weekly slot at the farm market and theirs is a compelling story.

Rachelle and Andrew Bostwick, owners of Earthkeeper Farm, no longer have to rise at 3:00 a.m. Saturday mornings to secure one of four to five stalls set aside for those not holding season-long reservations.

Regular status makes life much easier as regulars need only to arrive no later than 7:30 a.m. to set up their stalls. The Bostwicks had the good fortune of replacing a vendor of dog treats who opted not to return this year. (Fear not, dog bones are still available at the Great Harvest Bread Co. stall.)

Prior to purchasing their 20-acre farm, the Bostwicks had spent many a growing season working as apprentice farmers in places such as New York and as far away as Mexico and Spain. They did so working under an umbrella organization known as the Cooperative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT).

In 2007, it was time to put their training and education into practice on their own newly purchased farm.

Most young couples, when purchasing property, look for such things as the square footage of the home, number of bedrooms and baths, and a litany of amenities. Not so, this couple. Rachelle said, “Our number one criteria was the quality and fertility of the soil. So after looking at somewhere between 20 and 30 properties, we found what we were looking for on Fruit Ridge
Avenue in Kent City, and embarked on a dream of becoming sustainable organic farmers.”

Four of the 12 tillable acres of Earthkeeper Farm are currently in production. The remaining acreage consists of pastures and woodlots. During the growing season, they employ students and, as Rachelle laughingly says, “conscripted in-laws.”

The Bostwicks strictly adhere to the principles of sustainable agriculture with a goal of, hopefully, starting the process of being certified as an organic farm in 2010.

“Sustainable agriculture refers to the ability of a farm to produce food indefinitely, without causing severe or irreversible damage to ecosystem health,” says Andrew. “In doing so, we also embrace and employ all the methods of organic farming.”

During the growing season, the Bostwicks grow and harvest 60 crops consisting of 130 of varieties of produce. Salad greens are a particular forte of theirs. They grow 30 varieties of lettuce alone. Harvested the evening before the Saturday morning market, customers are assured of strictly fresh farm goods, untainted by chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Summer equals cold crisp salads, and all the ingredients necessary are found at the Earthkeeper Farm stall.

This is the Bostwicks’ second year at the Rockford Farm Market, the only market they attend. Rachelle, who is expecting their first child in September, says, “We hope one day to grow our farm’s production to the point where Andrew and I can ‘quit our off-farm day jobs’ and devote ourselves full time to this passion of ours of providing the very best and healthful foods to customers.”

According to a Michigan State University study, after California, Michigan is the most agriculturally diverse state in the nation, producing more than 200 agriculture commodities. Nowhere is that more evident than what is available every Saturday morning at the Rockford Farm Market.

The Earthkeeper Farm stall is located trailside toward the south end of the market. Stop by, say hi, and introduce yourself to the very best that this corner of Michigan has to offer. Rachelle and Andrew are founts of information about sustainable and organic farming, and Rachelle happily offers preparation and serving suggestions for their eclectic mix of farm produce. While there, ask about how you can become “hands on” involved in Earthkeeper Farm’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. CSA farms, so to speak, put the farmer’s face on food.

CSA is a partnership between a farm and a community of supporters, and CSA members purchase a “share” of the crops that are grown. In return, the farm provides a healthy supply of produce.

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