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Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Minor

The World of Titus Farms

Titus Farms is a 40 acre mixed vegetable farm run by Rebecca Titus out in Leslie, Michigan. Rebecca is an MSU Alumni with a degree in Horticulture, and took over management of the farm from her parents, Paul and Rose. She’s one of the few women farmers we met, and has a pair of highly entertaining companions – Maggie, the very distracting dog, and Greta, the cat who thinks she’s human.

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There’s a lot going on at Titus Farms, from growing mushrooms to repurposing shipping containers to raising pigs offsite. The mushroom logs were pretty cool; Rebecca had gotten some logs cut while dormant from a local farmer, inoculated them with shiitake spawn, and kept them in the shade of some cedars for the humidity. Rebecca is also one of the first in the state to grow mushrooms on her farm, and got about 30 pounds off her logs this past spring.

Other produce on the farm included an assortment of peppers, tomatoes, kale, raspberries, and some cucurbits that she grew on land rented from her neighbor. The raspberries were being attacked by spotted wing drososphila, an invasive fruit fly, and Rebecca has had to abandon them as fresh produce due to larvae presence, a preference not to spray, and labor shortages, but she’s considering turning the undamaged berries into preserves to sell. On labor, she says, “If I had a steady labor force, that would be lovely. I don’t care where they come from.” She has found it difficult hiring through the H-2A program for legal international workers, both in terms of cost and time. She currently runs the farm with 5-10 employees throughout the year.

Titus Raspberries

They’ve got some hives on the farm, but the day we visited, the bees were “super broody so we’ll avoid them”. We did get to see some of Rebecca’s creativity at work, though. There was an old school bus that had served as a chicken coop, and she’d buried an old shipping container and turned it into a storage unit where she stashed things like potatoes, onions, cabbage, and winter squash, mainly for her winter CSA.

Titus Farms serves three farmers markets throughout the year, and also offers CSA shares, or community supported agriculture that members buy into for an allotment of fresh produce throughout the season. They can be found at the following farmers markets:

East Lansing Farmers Market at Valley Court Park, Sundays from 10am to 2pm, June through October

Meridian Township Farmers Market at Central Park Pavilion, Saturdays from 8am to 2pm, May through October

Meridian Township Farmers Market in Meridian Mall, 1st and 3rd Saturdays from 10am to 2pm, December through April

Allen Street Farmers Market at Allen Neighborhood Center, alternating Wednesdays from 3pm to 6:30pm, throughout the winter

They have around 300 CSA members, and distribute food in a farmers market style where members are allowed to choose from among 15-20 produce items in lieu of being given a pre-packaged box of produce. This gives members a greater choice and reduces the risk that they’ll receive something they won’t eat. Members are also given a voice in what’s grown; Rebecca plays it by ear, but grows staples such as corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers in addition to experimenting with different varieties and other veggies for fun.

Titus Peppers

Titus Farms isn’t certified organic, but they do follow organic practices. Some of these practices include composting, disking, cover cropping, and deep tilling or growing radishes for the hard pan. For fertility, Rebecca uses cow and chicken manure. She also minimizes pesticide use by following preventative measures such as moving, rotating, or retiring a crop. And as she doesn’t have a lot of time, and because she tries very hard not to spray, her attitude towards weeds is “whatever” with a shrug. Some of her reasons behind choosing not to be certified are because 1) she doesn’t need it with the size of her customer base, 2) the costs of certification, 3) the competition within the organic market, and 4) her ability to follow organic practices and still be able to promote local, sustainable, and healthy food. Why go looking for trouble, right?

I did visit the Meridian Township Farmers Market on Saturday and found the Titus Farms market stand abuzz with activity, their tables full of tomatoes, leeks, potatoes, mushrooms, and other goodies. Rebecca was working right alongside her employees, all of them dancing around each other fetching this or that, helping and chatting with their customers. She told me there was less difficulty in finding people to join her Market Crew than it was for her farm crews. I asked Issac what it was like to work for Rebecca – “I’ll plug my ears” – and he responded that he loves it, especially being outside and the flexibility to meet her at the market instead of on farm. Apparently Rebecca gets up super early, around 4:30am, to get ready for the market.

I found it very inspiring to meet Rebecca; she’s so creative, resourceful, and unafraid to try new things and promote sustainable, local eating. Thanks for letting us visit!

Learn more about Titus Farms.