Meet the Growers: North Bay Produce 2021 Farm Tour
The Produce Moms traveled back to Michigan for blueberry farm tours with North Bay Produce!
Some traditions are meant to be kept. We love being able to escape to the heart of “blueberry country” every July. We love seeing the hustle and beauty that lies on the blueberry farms on the western coastline of Michigan. Over 65 million pounds of juicy blueberry goodness comes from The Great Lakes State which equals around 32% of the total North American crop. The summer and early fall are great times to visit many of the family-owned blueberry farms in Michigan.
North Bay Produce is a grower owned fruit and vegetable cooperative nestled in Traverse City, MI. Grower members from around the world including Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru, the United States, and Uruguay provide year-round fresh commodities like apples, asparagus, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, snow peas, and sugar snap peas. Many of North Bay Produce’s growers are second, third, and even fourth generation farmers.
We recently had a chance to visit two amazing North Bay Blueberry Farms in Van Buren County, Michigan: Stokes’ Blueberry Farms and True Blue Farms. Both are rich in heritage and are committed to bringing the freshest blueberries from farm to table.
Stokes’ Blueberry Farms
Stokes’ Blueberry Farms & Nursery is family-owned and operated since 1978. With nearly 900 acres of farmland, we toured the original acreage across the street from the packing house. It was on this exact land that dreams were made. Our tour was led by Jamie and Nick, who are part of the 2nd generation of family farmers.
We enjoyed learning about the picking process and how it goes from the farm to the packing house. Like many farms, Stokes utilizes both hand pickers and mechanical harvesters to help ensure that they are picking the most ripe berries. Most of the blueberry bushes have what they call the “lead” picking which gets a majority of the ripe berries. And depending on the year and how much weather has impacted the berries, they can get anywhere from 2-4 more pickings.
One of our favorite things to do on our blueberry farm tours is to “sample” the berries right off the bush! It is also a great way to try so many different varieties of blueberries. And did you know…there are over 50 different varieties of blueberries? Most consumers have no idea what they are getting. We did ask what some of the favorite varieties are for Jamie and Nick, and they said Chandlers for their big size and Spartans for their taste. Some varieties are more sweet while others are more tart, so there is a variety that will appeal to everyone!
On their farms, Stokes also has a blueberry frozen pack facility. This facility packages more than six million pounds of blueberries a year that are sold throughout the world. And during the fall, Stokes Homestead Farm Market is open to the public. They sell strawberries, apples, asparagus, pumpkins and many other fruits and vegetables from their farm.
True Blue Farms
On our second stop, we got a chance to sit down and talk to Shelly Hartmann, Owner of True Blue Farms. In 1993, Shelly and her husband Dennis started their first farm with just 25 acres of blueberries. And as of today, True Blue Farms has over 600 acres of farmland.
At True Blue Farms, they offer a variety of services and a variety of blueberries. They have a great U-pick farm that is constantly trimmed perfect for visitors to handpick the blueberries directly from the bush. But if you are limited in time, you can stop at their stand to purchase fresh, daily-picked blueberries.
And did we mention the Blueberry Store in the heart of downtown South Haven? All the products made for the Blueberry Store come from True Blue Farms by using the best quality blueberries. The Blueberry Store products have a sweet, soulful flavor that only Michigan blueberries can offer.
As we sat down to talk to Shelly, her passion and love for farming is at the core of who she is and that translates into the mission of True Blue Farms. Her entrepreneurial journey is one that was even captured in Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur’s Soul: Advice and Inspiration for Fulfilling Dreams.
Related: 2020 Farm Tours & 2019 Farm Tours
More with North Bay Produce Blueberries
After leaving the blueberry farms, we were ready to eat our 15 lbs of blueberries! One of our favorite recipes to make with the kids is Blueberry Ice Cream Bread. And did we mention it only uses 3 ingredients? If you are looking for something a little more savory, the Warm Blueberry and Snow Pea Salad is a true hit at the dinner table.
Also try the Baked Blueberry Oatmeal Cups, Blueberry Chia Jam or the Blueberry Lemonade from North Bay Produce’s recipe collection. Blueberries make the perfect addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner (and dessert too)! And most certainly, you shouldn’t leave out your pup. Dogs love blueberries including treats as easy as our Frozen Banana and Blueberry Pupsicles!
Recently on Indy Style, Lori created some blueberry recipes for back to school. She kicked off the show with Frozen Yogurt Cups. Just place yogurt, blueberries, and granola into cupcake liners and freeze! Next up, Lori showed an easy, 4-ingredient Blueberry Cobbler perfect to get the kids to help in the kitchen. Finally, Lori showcased the Blueberry Gin Mojito for all those busy moms living in the back to school chaos!
Share your favorite North Bay Produce blueberry recipe with us @theproducemoms. We want to hear from you!