Long-time Milan, Michigan farmers, Vicki and Tom Zilke, know how to grow good food. Turns out, they also know how to cook. Since June 2018 when Zilke Farm Kitchen opened for business, Vicki has been creating simple home-cooked meal kits and prepared food in Milan’s new retail space.
After hearing from friends, neighbors and customers that they just didn’t have the time, ingredients, or even recipe ideas to prepare quick healthy meals for their families, Vicki’s natural entrepreneurial instincts kicked in. “I was drawn to solve that problem so people could eat healthy meals for dinner at home.”
In addition to the prepared food, Zilke Farm Kitchen boasts Michigan jams, honeys, baked goods and even the Ypsilanti-based Go! Ice Cream. Though she’s known to throw in a lemon or lime, Vicki is committed to using fresh, seasonal ingredients from her own farm and other local growers. This winter she is making butternut squash lasagna and hearty potato leek soup from Zilke Vegetable Farm produce, ready to warm up and serve. Every meal kit includes step-by-step instructions with all the ingredients included.
“I know how good my food is. I wanted to share with other people,” she says with a big smile and a hairnet on.
The Zilkes’s dream became a reality with the help of the Michigan Good Food Fund, a finance program specifically for start-up Michigan food businesses. With a four year loan, Vicki and Tom purchased equipment, hire local contractors, and start operations. In addition, the program offers personalized business coaching and tailored technical assistance such as website development, and connects new business owners to university resources and experts in the field.
“We chose the Good Food Fund because their mission aligns with ours. They understand our work, and we can support their efforts while they support us.”
Though the financing helped jumpstart the business, the Zilkes put in sweat equity of their own to turn an old propane store into the cozy space it is today. Even after their construction crew finished for the day, Vicki and Tom continued demolishing, cleaning, and painting. What’s most rewarding for Vicki is the economic activity she says the business has already contributed to Milan. She’s hired mostly locals and has already paid out in labor more than the loan amount.
Despite the store’s early successes, don’t expect Vicki to slow down now. She already has plans to expand with a wholesale line and meal delivery service. People could order meal kits online or pick up ready-to-eat foods at Argus Farm Stop or even co-op grocery stores.
But don’t expect seating to be in Zilke Farm Kitchen’s future. Vicki still wants you to go home and eat with your family.
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