Farm stands: Fresh food meals start here

Published 12:51 pm Friday, June 18, 2010

Dana Lee holds grandson, Ethan DeVries, as mom Savannah looks on, in Edge of the Woods' new greenhouse. Those wishing to plant their own fresh food can find a huge variety of flower, vegetable and herb plants. Photo by Kathie Hempel

The admonitions are everywhere.

Know where your food comes from. Eat fresh local produce in season. Even Chef Emeril Lagasse of Food Network fame has gotten on the bandwagon with his new “Farm to Fork” cookbook, which became available as of the first of the month.

There are liberty gardens and community gardens planted in most cities and urban areas as more people buy into the philosophy of the fresher the better. However, what if you have neither the time nor inclination to challenge the big green giant’s gardening skills?

Easy. Pick up a copy of the 2010 Farm Stand Guide available through the dedicated group at Support Local Agriculture (SLA). The handy little folder has a map which directs you to 27 local farm stands.

I had the opportunity to visit with two of the women whose stands are listed in the brochure and to see first hand what they are up to for the 2010 growing season. My guide was Greta Hurst, secretary for Support Local Agriculture, an artist and a bit of a grower herself.

Barbara Pressti of Treeline Farms, 15429 Three Oaks Rd., and Dana Lee of Edge of the Woods, 15684 Three Oaks Rd., are two of a group of Three Oaks, Mich. area growers who, five years ago, decided to start the Three Oaks Farmer’s Market. The market gathers in the parking lot of the Vickers Theater at the corner of Elm and Oak streets in Three Oaks each Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. from May to October.

Lee’s farm borders Warren Woods, thus its name. From the roadside stand they offer fresh produce in season, but with the addition of their new large 30-by-100-foot greenhouse, this year they offer a huge selection of bedding and vegetable plants for those who do want to grow their own.

They are Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) participants. Simply put, this is a program by which consumers purchase a “share” or “membership” with the farm and in return get a box, bag or basket of the currently available produce each week.

For those whose space is limited, the Lee’s have a variety of planters and hanging baskets filled with herbs, flowering kale and lettuce.  This is an easy way to have fresh ingredients on hand for frequent use. Priced from $6 to $12, they are economical as well.

Walking through the greenhouse, I was not only amazed by the variety (18 varieties of herbs alone) but was genuinely impressed by how healthy and green all the plants are. I am not one of those who were born with a green thumb, but these exuded so much vibrancy I doubt even my ineptness could spoil them.

You like tomatoes, you say? How about choosing from approximately 30 different varieties of heirloom tomato plants? One of the most popular of the heirloom tomato varieties, the Lees are known for, is Black Cherry, the flavor of which she says is indescribable.

“My husband says to compare this heirloom tomato to a regular tomato is like comparing a Bach beer to one of the light varieties,” Lee said.

Of course, as the season progresses you can buy fresh-picked tomatoes out front.  The stand operates on the cash-and-carry honor system and Lee says she often sees people picking up some of the produce even after dark. Regular hours of service are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. You can pick up your farm fresh eggs while you are here.

During the visit I got a glance at the farm’s new store, located just behind the farm stand, where Lee will be selling a number of craft items such as environmentally friendly grocery bags made from enforced feed bags. There are other crafts like aprons and decorative bags for plastic storage bags. Each year the farm offers not only the fresh-picked produce but preserves and maple syrup as well.

Down the road at Treeline Farms, Pressti’s stand offers bouquets of fresh-picked flowers.
Her gardens contain not only well known flowers like poppies, zinnias and dianthus, but this flower lady loves wild flowers collected in the woods near her own gardens.

Well-versed in all things floral, Pressti taught me that the wildflower growing by the side of the road, which I thought was flock is actually Dames Rocket. She told me that if I wanted to have cut poppies last the stems needed to be cauterized to enable them to take up the water before being placed in the vase.

The Chicago native is a former florist who at one time wanted to be a pastry chef. She longed to be able to grow her own food and flowers. The closeness to the city and family allowed her to make this area home when she purchased the former Phillipe family farmhouse built in 1877. She bought the house in 2001 and then moved here “full-time” in 2003.

“Growing up my parents always wanted to buy a farm. Grandfather grew everything,” Pressti said.

Much of her work on the farm has been to improve the soil. Pressti acknowledges that it takes “hours of back-breaking manure lifting work;” however, it is difficult to imagine this free spirit, outdoors-loving lady doing anything else. She has now rented some acreage of the neighboring land, some of which is planted with rye, a crop known to improve the soil.

In addition to her flowers, Pressti grows a number of greens. She says she is on a campaign to educate people on the value of the lowly collard green.

“It is so easy to grow and cook, is full of vitamins and it grows all summer long,” she said.

Pressti at one time tried raising goats, however, discovered “it was not my forte.” She raised chickens for a while and hopes to try it again when she can get a mobile chicken pen built so they can graze as free range as possible without getting into the gardens.

It’s been a learning experience as has becoming a farm market manager and vendor.

“I started out taking a spot at the Bridgeman Farm Market,” she said. “I learned a lot that first year. Today at the Three Oaks Farm Market we have a wonderful group of people who truly support one another.  We have all different ages and many sell completely organic produce.”

This year, why not get the best of both worlds? Grow some of your own vegetables and herbs then get the rest in season at your local farmer’s market or farm stand. If you want a copy of the brochure, you will find it at or visit the Three Oaks Farm Market, where copies will be available.

Many of the farms listed also have listings at, which you can reach from the SLA main site. Here you will find a crop guide for those who have forgotten which food is in season and a detailed explanation of just what a CSA is.

Know where your food comes from. Local farmers have a wealth of information to share not only on the produce itself, but how to preserve what they grow for use all year round and they are more than willing to share.