By Adam Brown
Imagine if we had a food system that actually produced wholesome food. Imagine if it produced that food in a way that regenerated the soil in which it grew. Imagine if we could eat every meal knowing these few simple things: What it is we’re eating? Where it came from? How it found its way to your plate.
There is a place at the north end of Torch Lake where this kind of regenerative food system exists. Where people work tirelessly to develop a relationship to the verdant land and to the people they feed. That place is called Providence Organic Farm. Founded in 2006, Providence Organic Farm has a focus on living soil by utilizing organic farming practices, thus producing healthy crops and distributing these to the community.
This is a place where the foundation of soil health principles are utilized each season with precision and attentiveness. You can witness fields of diverse cover crop mixes, practices that minimize soil disturbance, living plants growing as long as the sun shines, and mixed pastures grazed by a several livestock species. No practice of proper soil health management is neglected by owner and farm manager Ryan Romeyn and his talented team. Romeyn understands that his soil is alive with a diversity of microorganisms and subsequently how valuable these are to the function of a healthy soil and to the health of his crops.
Soil managed like this, like a micro ecosystem, will create and maintain stable soil aggregates and allow water to infiltrate and permeate the soil, making it available to plant roots. These soil organisms are also the drivers of nutrient cycling and the key variable in assuring that minerals in the soil reach the plants. Without a healthy soil microbiome, farm systems simply will not function properly.
For nearly two decades, Providence Farm’s soil has been managed with the philosophy of “soil as a living biological system.” There is an adage in agriculture, that healthy soil produces healthy plants. Controversy has long surrounded the question of nutritional differences between crops grown organically or using conventional methods. There have been extensive studies going back to the 1940s showing that farming methods can affect the nutrient density of crops. The Rodale Institute, and non-profit based in Pennsylvania, has been dedicated to educating consumers and growers about agriculture through rigorous research for the past 70 years. The Rodale Institute’s farm systems trial is longest and most notable study of the effects of farming practices on the nutritional quality of food (Hepperly et al., 2018).
Since 1981 the Rodale Institute has grown the same crops in side-by-side plots in an ongoing field-scale comparison of organic and conventional practices. By 2003, the soil organic matter and Nitrogen levels has significantly increased in the organic plots. Vegetables grown under the two systems in 2005 also had large differences in mineral content; organically grown crops had larger quantities of total antioxidants and vitamin C. Organically grown tomatoes and jalapeno peppers respectively had 36% and 18% more Vitamin C. Organic carrots had 29% higher total antioxidant levels. In other words, this study was and is proving that healthier soils teeming with biology produce more nutrient-dense crops. Feeding the soil (microbes) to produce healthier crops probably is not a fallacy and a practice that more growers should adopt, and one could argue is essential for a sustainable food system that can feed billions of people on this pale blue dot we call home. And yes, the systems that Providence Farm utilizes are scalable!
Providence Organic Farm distributes their organically grown produce through a several hundred member Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model program, retail and wholesale outlets. To complete their community food web, they recently added a Natural Food market and a bucolic café. If you are in need for the truest and most honest farm-to-fork experiences, then this is definitely a place to occupy with a large appetite. The menu is created with a deep passion in creating healthy meals. Andrea Romeyn, owner and passionate food enthusiast, and her team in the kitchen are masters of manipulating the fresh, organic and nutrient dense food into delectable hearty soups, and much more.
Vegans and carnivores can commingle with a delightful option to suit their palate. Visit their café for a pop-up menu to enjoy a unique stir-fry or authentic tacos. You can become part of the Providence Farm Family be consuming the food that was grown with an extreme amount of care, time and effort, and you will taste the passion that went into their recipes.
When you sit down to eat a meal in the Providence Farm Café, you are making a wise choice for your personal health, and the future health of a model farm operation that needs to be adopted by many more growers in this nation. You are choosing to eat a meal with ingredients grown with purpose, animals being raised ethically, and people who are passionate about feeding you. You are voting with your food dollars to choose the best option for the overall health of your family and the land.
You don’t have to just imagine such a food system that produces wholesome food, the ideal model is functioning and available to you right here in on the shores of Torch Lake.
So go grab yourself a warming soil-to-spoon bowl of soup, your staple organic vegetables, grass fed animal protein, or an espresso drink and raise your mug to honor an essential food craftsman in our region. Providence Organic Farm, Café & Natural Food Market is located at 5695 North M-88.
Adam Brown is a Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program technician with the Leelanau Conservation District. He has a background in ecology and a B.S. from Western Michigan University in earth science with minors in environmental studies and biology. Prior to becoming a MAEAP technician he owned and managed a certified organic fruit and vegetable farm with his wife Haley Breniser, called Undertoe Farm in Kewadin. He has a passion for sustainable agriculture with a focus on soil health.