Local Farmers in National Geographic

Photo courtesy Ken Scott Photography

National Geographic News has a great article on America’s aging farmers and how spiraling costs are keeping young farmers out of farming that features several Grand Traverse & Leelanau County farmers!

The article features Nic & Jen Welty of 9 Bean Rows, Abra Berens and Jess Piskor of Bare Knuckle Farm, Art McManus of Southview Orchards, David & Chris Alpers of Redpath Orchards, Gene Garthe and also the MSU Horticultural Research Station‘s Nikki Rothwell.


Jess Piskor & Abra Berens of Bare Knuckle Farm

Here’s an excerpt – read a lot more and see some of their great photos in American Farmers Are Growing Old, With Spiraling Costs Keeping Out Young from National Geographic:

Jess Piskor shows off his handmade hoe, which looks like an oversize razorblade on a stick. Nearby is a hand-push seeder from the 1930s. Out back sits a refurbished 1948 Allis-Chalmers G tractor, which was cutting-edge technology back when most farmers tilled fewer than a hundred acres.

There’s no big or expensive equipment at Bare Knuckle Farm, the four-acre operation where Piskor and co-owner Abra Berens, both 32, grow vegetables and raise free-range pigs. Set in a valley between two cherry groves on Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, their vegetable plot is “not a ‘cute’ farm,” says Berens.

“This is a new model,” she says, with “the idea of going back to some of the old-school ways.”

Piskor, who first turned soil on his grandfather’s land in 2009, and Berens, who grew up on a southern Michigan pickle farm, insist that they’re not niche farmers. Like many locavores their age, they are passionate about growing fresh, healthy food for their community and about reconnecting people to the land that sustains them.

Bare Knuckle Farm sells food to a local children’s center where the 4- to 7-year-olds “know me as their farmer,” Piskor says. “I like getting kids to eat their vegetables.”

Yet the duo are typical of beginner farmers who must be creative to make ends meet on a small bit of land. Berens, who cooks professionally at a suburban Chicago restaurant in the winter, stages monthly summer farm dinners in their tool shed to earn more from what they grow. They also sell direct to consumers at local farmers markets and through community supported agriculture (CSA) so that they can keep more of what they earn.

Piskor, who leases land from his grandfather, hopes to buy his own farm someday, but that will require a lot more capital than he has at the moment. He hopes to pay himself a salary of $30,000 this year after working without pay for the past two years.

“There are more people who want to do this than land available” Piskor says. “I wish I had more peers my age because it would be fun to sit down and talk shop together.”