Roadside stands ready for seasonPublished 11:30am Thursday, May 29, 2014
NILES — One of the things that makes life unique in southwest Michigan is the opportunity to enjoy the bounty of the many small farms that produce both flowers and food from the rich soil here.
Farm stands along the side of the road allow customers to buy the freshest produce while supporting small family farms at the same time.
The owner of one such farm stand, located at 201 E. Bertrand Rd., Mary Fraser grew up on a family farm in Vermont.
“My father had horses, and we had beef cattle and sheep and, of course, a huge garden,” Fraser said. “I learned a lot about gardening from both of my parents.”
After years of working as an executive secretary for a large engineering firm and raising three children, Fraser returned to her farming roots.
“I did this for 20 years back in Vermont, and I had a reputation for gorgeous mixed baskets of flowers,” Fraser said.
About 5 years ago, Fraser moved to Niles to be closer to one of her sons and his family, expanding her farm to raise and sell a wide variety of organic vegetables and cut flowers from seed. Depending upon the season, Fraser offers cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, onions, squashes, strawberries and a wide variety of perennials for sale.
“Customers will say, ‘Your plants are so healthy,’ and they are healthy! I try very hard to be as organic as I can,” Fraser explained. “In buying my own seed, I can get things that have not been genetically engineered, and I feel better about that.”
Little by little, Fraser has expanded her business and the services she offers. While customers can stop and buy plants to grow in their own gardens, she also makes custom planters and does landscape design. Produce from Fraser’s garden, organic eggs, salsas and pesto are also available at her stand.
“I also do this lettuce mix that people just love,” Fraser said.
Fraser is also expanding her customer base beyond the stand. Having started doing flower arrangements for weddings and parties last year, her newest activity will be raising fresh produce and flowers for Weiss’ Gasthaus in Roseland, Indiana.
“They opened about a year ago, and people tell me it’s just fabulous food,” Fraser said. “They do a lot of German food and other types of food as well. I’ll probably put in a couple hundred more red cabbages because they use a lot of cabbage. It’s just gong to work out so well!”
Fraser has also expanded by planting a garden in Galien, where she plans to grow squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and other vining plants.
While she loves working with her plants in the garden and in the seed room in her home, Fraser also appreciates the opportunity to meet new people through her stand.
“Gardening opens itself up to meeting new people and lots of wonderful experiences,” Fraser said.
Customers with questions can reach Mary at The Farm Stand on Bertrand by calling (574) 383-5569.