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Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Minor

Beef and Mint and Maple, Oh My! Livingston Farm

Livingston farm is a 850 acre farm located in Saint Johns, Michigan. Their family began farming in 1902 with maple syrup and dairy. Over the years what was produced on the farm changed with economy and labor needs. Currently they grow grass- fed and finished beef, forest for maple syrup, and spearmint and peppermint for oil and compost. From these 3 crops they provide an array of products including various cuts of beef, jerky, bottled maple syrup, and other sweets made with their maple syrup and mint oil.

When we pulled onto the farm our three piece caravan was greeted by a smiling, barefoot woman. Livingston farm gave a very warm and welcoming feeling to us with its greenery and the golden afternoon sun shining down. Once parked, we walked into their maple syrup barn, surrounded with forest on one side and pasture on the other. Palettes, boxes, and buckets surrounded the building in piles. Clean up from one crop’s tasks sometimes take a back seat to other time sensitive jobs when there are only four, sometimes five, people working such a large amount of land. Sitting down for our lunch and the treats we were given, we began to hear the story of Livingston farm’s history and it’s daily and seasonal happenings. The farm stays busy year around with their diversity of products to care for. The year begins with the start of the freeze-thaw cycle in late February, which stimulates the flow of sap, and continues for all of March. In a productive year, such as this past spring 2018, the trees supplied sap two weeks into April. A series of bright blue tubes ran from several trees to a pump that brought the sap to the barn. Tubes are left up year around here, because all the time and effort it takes to put them all up and take them down is not worth it to the family. Lines just need to be checked before harvest begins for any holes caused by the mischievous squirrels that are around. The sap is purified in a boiler, goes through a series of filters, and then is bottled all in the barn we were in.

Livingston 1

Once syrup processing slows down, the mint roots are planted into about 20 acres of the farm. The soils of the land were once swamp and have poor drainage, conditions mint thrive in, but most vegetables do not which led them to stop growing them for market in the mid-90’s. Recognizing what types of soil is on farm and what plants grow best in them has allowed Livingston to diversify their farm to their benefit. Growing a plant that is compatible with the on farm ecosystem means a farmer will have an easier time growing and require less inputs than one trying to grow crops that need different land to thrive. The mint is harvested in June and July and is diffused into an oil and bottled on farm. If the mint is able to be cut in June and their is sufficient water available a second harvest can be made in September. Years such as these allow Livingston to have some wiggle room in years when yields are not as plentiful, since maple syrup and mint oil have a good shelf life, bulk orders from restaurants, bakeries, etc. can still be met with a previous year’s surplus.

Livingston 2

Their maple syrup and mint oil is sold not only from the farm personally to customers, but also to local Michigan businesses for use in their food. We were able to try candies made by OhMi Organics that contained both their mint and syrup. They also had samples of the maple syrup, beef products, and other treats available for us to try and purchase. I took advantage of this opportunity to buy a bottle of ethically sourced spearmint oil to relieve stress and back pain and I was not let down. Having a wide array of locally grown, produced, and sold products adds to Livingston Farm’s appeal. With more and more people wanting to support local Michigan business, looking to diversify the foods they eat, and understand more about where their food is coming from I believe the family will be seeing an increase in demand for their goods. Livingston’s website, managed by Katie, offers insight to how their cows are raised and the health benefits of grass fed beef, information about what restaurants purchase and use their products, and ideas on use of some products, such as their mint oil and tallow balm. The website also invites people on farm for maple syrup tapping season, this option of transparency builds a trust between the customers and the farm, knowing that there is nothing to hide. This is ease of access to knowledge and contact is important in building a wide customer base, something many farmers can struggle with.

Livingston’s resilience to changing labor dynamics, crops needs, and market shifts has allowed them to keep farming for over 100 years, something a lot farms unfortunately cannot say today. With the demand for homegrown, natural foods ever rising Livingston looks to be on the path of continuing the family business for 100 more.