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Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Minor

Schultz Fruitridge Farm

Shultz Fruitridge Farm is a highly diversified and successful enterprise despite the risks and challenges associated with the fruit growing business.

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Farm Structure and History:

Schultz’s is a third-generation, 160 acre, diversified fruit farm that started in 1951. The founder is the current owner’s father, Victor Shultz, who felt the need to move into agriculture after returning from the army, getting married, and starting a small mom and pop grocery store. Victor and his wife, Dorthey, decided to purchase the current location because it was the only farm in the area that had a peach crop after a hard winter. The Schultz family has since scaled up the property from the original 80 acres to the farm that it is today.

Unfortunately, the farm has hit a streak of bad luck, specifically following the April 2012 snap freeze that was preceded by two weeks of 80-degree weather. That year the farm lost many of their crops including sweet cherries, wine grapes, apples, and peaches. Despite this, the Schultz family never lost their spirit and is now pushing into new areas of interest including a brewery and a farm to table restaurant, as well as several new crops that have peaked their interest. The farm has also reached out to the locals and is promoting agriculture through the connections that they have made in their community.

Diversification and Sustainability:

The farm grows a wide variety of crops including asparagus, squash, blueberries, peaches, apples, pumpkins, grapes, cherries, pears and sweetcorn. In addition, the farm offers many other value-added products including jams and jellies, honey, bison burgers, maple syrup, apple cider, donuts, and a variety of craft beer and hard cider. This diversification helps to make the farm unique and has allowed the farm to ride out many hardships including hard winters and price drops in various crops. The diversification of the farm has also allowed for the farmers to fulfill niche rolls in the market as well as roles for more generally desired products, allowing for greater financial security.

Despite the Farm’s largest hardship that occurred in 2012, they have begun to adopt sustainable practices such as only spraying their crops when necessary and installing drip irrigation. Both practices have helped improve the health of the farm and have reduced the farm’s costs. The main funding for the farm comes almost exclusively from on farm sales as well as a single contract with Welch’s. Their practice of primarily selling on-farm helps to keep money flowing through the local economy and has allowed for a small town in rural Michigan to keep in touch with the current culture by giving them access to local, seasonal food and craft beers.

Restaurant and Brewery:

A few years ago, while looking to diversify even more, the family began discussing the possibility of opening a farm to table restaurant nearby. After beginning the brewery, the family also wanted a place to serve their new hard ciders and craft beers, while incorporating food and a family friendly atmosphere. When one of the family members was driving through town and saw an old white church up for sale, they jumped in with both feet and purchased the property that day. After many renovations and lots of hard work, the restaurant has now been open for two and a half years serving seasonal farm to table pizzas, salads, and sandwiches, as well as their craft beers and hard cider created on the farm.

This restaurant has benefitted both the family and their local area, Texas Corners. It has done this by adding another option for locals looking for work as well as a place for locals to go out on the town. By renovating a local church, they have helped to preserve an important part of that town’s social history and have created a space for the town to come together around local food and brews. The use of local farm to table foods reduces their cost as the restaurateurs and increases the awareness that people have about their food while also reducing the food miles used in transporting food products to the farm. The use of bison provides a healthier and lower environmental impact option to beef, a staple at most restaurants. All of this has helped to promote local health as well as improve the sustainability of people’s restaurant options in Texas Corners.

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Farm Challenges:

There are two large problems currently facing Schultz’s. The first is a massive shortage of agricultural labor. The second is the cost of said labor. When talking to the farmers, they noted that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find laborers and maintain the cost of labor. This is because of the implementation of the minimum wage at $8+ an hour and the worker protections imposed on youth which restrict the working age to 16 years and older as well as cuts down on the allowable hours. These regulations have made it harder for many fruit producers to compete with foreign markets due to the high labor cost and lack of skilled labor on the farm. It also makes it increasingly difficult to bring in the entirety of the harvestable fruit, leading to profit losses and increases in food waste.

Possible Solutions:

The farm has considered moving to mechanization as a way of cutting down on labor costs. This involves switching over to more invasive growing practices on their trees to keep them at a more manageable size. They are also considering adding new varieties of apples and other fruits to find a new niche in the market, which could help them to better recover from the losses sustained in 2012. The restaurant, craft beers, and hard ciders have also been other ways the family has sought to come back from these losses.

Similarities and Differences:

Scultz’s farm is different from other farms in the diversity of their production and was by far the most diverse farm that we toured during this course. This diversity has presented them with challenges as well as many safety nets along the way. The Shultz farm is also set to remain within the family for at least another generation, something we haven’t much seen on the other farms we’ve visited.

Shultz Fruitridge Farm is similar to other farms we have visited in a few ways, however. One similarity is that all farms are struggling with labor shortage issues and instability in the political sphere regarding immigration and what it means for the ever-worsening labor shortage. They have also had issues with a shifting agricultural market due to price fluctuations and consumer preference changes like many of the other farms.

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The Family Experience:

The resounding opinion of Shultz Fruitridge Farms is an appreciation for the resilience of the family and their success in diversifying their business. The entire class enjoyed the hospitality and honesty that surrounded each of the conversations during our tour and enriched our collective learning experience. The hay ride and grape picking was also definitely a highlight of the day. We left with bellies full of cider and donuts, the knowledge of the risks and rewards of fruit production, and the desire to continue discussing the complexities of this type of agriculture for several more hours.

For more information, visit Schultz Fruitridge Farms.