Winter on the Farm : Spirit of Walloon
Often wonder what farmers do during the winter? Do they travel the world, bundle up with a favorite book, or take on new hobbies? Despite appearance, winter is a crucial time for many farmers in Northern Michigan. There is much to be done below the surface during these quiet and cold months!
We’re asking three farmers in Northern Michigan, “What are your plans this winter?” We will be presenting their answers as a series throughout the long wintery months of December, January, and February and are expecting their answers will be varied and intriguing.
The leaves have fallen, the temperature is dropping, and the days are short, and we are awaiting snow. But that doesn’t mean everything is slowing down on the farm. This month we spoke with Rachel Cross, owner of Spirit of Walloon Market Garden in Boyne City, and asked her about her winter practices. The farm is nestled alongside Walloon Lake, a place where in the summer, population soars with retirees and vacationers. The winter months can be quiet, but there is still a lot happening for local farmers. “Winter is a good time to get some relaxation in, but also to get ahead of the busy Spring months to come,” describes a very optimistic Rachel. For farmers like Rachel, winter is the opportune time to start on next year’s projects and get ahead before Spring.
With just over 1.3 acres of production, seven unheated four-season hoophouses, and one heated transplant greenhouse, the growing season is extended and farming is a full-time job, year-round at Spirit of Walloon. Snow clearing can be an intimidating job on the farm, “I enjoy playing outside in the snow, but keeping eight hoophouses clear of it can be a demanding job,” says Rachel, who works hard year-round and the winter is no exception. She prepares for spring planting, gives presentations at conferences, hires staff for the upcoming season, orders seeds, does her taxes and budgeting, and still finds time to make beautiful wreaths before the first seed is planted in the greenhouse in early February.
Looking for healthy produce to fight the winter blues? You will find Spirit of Walloon at Petoskey’s Crooked Tree Art Center Indoor Artisan and Farmers’ Market on Fridays from 10-1pm until the end of December. They will have winter spinach, salad greens, radishes, carrots, celeriac, kohlrabi, onions, garlic, shallots, potatoes, herbs, and winter squash available. “December markets are very festive at Crooked Tree,” says Rachel. “We will have edible wreaths made with herbs, garlic, and hot peppers available for the holidays.”
You can also catch Rachel at the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market EXPO in Grand Rapids from December 5th – 7th, where she will be presenting in the Session on Hoophouses on Specialty Crops in Hoophouses, and in the Session on Organic Opportunities and Markets on Spirit of Walloon’s Start-Up and Growth Over the First Four Years.
With all the hard work, Rachel takes some time to enjoy the kitchen in the wintery months. She enjoys cooking and spends a lot of her time there when the snow flutters. She doesn’t have a favorite winter dish, but selects a different cookbook every year and works her way through it. “The last two years, I’ve been working through Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees, a Chinese cookbook by Kian Lam Kho, and The Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson, a massive compendium on Scandinavian Cuisine, and I am currently looking for new cookbook suggestions this winter.”
What is your favorite crop to grow in the winter:
Winter spinach! “It’s so sweet and delicious, we harvest greens from our unheated hoophouses throughout the winter, and it’s always extra special to have something fresh when the rest of the farm is frozen.”
What inspires you most about the winter season:
“It marks a fresh start to a new season, both temporally and visually, when the fields are covered with snow, it’s literally a blank slate for the future. It’s a great time to get refreshed and excited for another year of growing!”
If you have a cookbook recommendation or desire a beautiful edible wreath for the holidays, Rachel can be contacted at [email protected]. When not escaping the snow, Spirit of Walloon attends the Boyne City Farmers Market, Petoskey Farmers Market, sells to 7 local restaurants, Boyne Falls Public School, Ellsworth Public Schools, and always has a bounty of tasty produce and fresh cut flowers.
Bailey Samp is the Local Food Coordinator and Events Manager for NW Michigan and the Owner of Lakeview Hill Farm. She is not as optimistic about the winter months and is dreading the first big snowfall. She can be contacted at [email protected], although she will not wake from hibernation until Spring.