In 2014, when Anne and Brian Bates started looking for a piece of land where they could start organic farming, they had a wild but achievable vision.
“We wanted to create a homestead,” said Brian. “On steroids.”
Entering year nine of Bear Creek Organic Farm, Petoskey’s first-ever 100% USDA Certified Organic Farm and the first B Corp Certified Farm in the state of Michigan, things have gotten a little bigger than the Bateses first imagined. It’s mostly because their raw enthusiasm, passion, and pluck were just the “steroids” that their 76-acre piece of land needed to grow into a thriving business.
While other business owners may kick things off with a one- or five-year plan, the Bateses were looking at something a bit more long-term.
“When you’re looking at farming, it’s not a quick-turn business,” said Brian. “We were looking for something that we could grow over 50 or 60 years.”
The couple was looking at more northern climates, ultimately to hedge their bet against the fallout of climate change. The sandy terroir of Emmet County ended up the final winner. With neither hailing from farming families, Brian and Anne took internships on CSA farms, attended lots of farming seminars, and even ventured into Beekeeping 101.
“There’s a lot of knowledge that gets passed down on family farms,” said Brian. “We were starting from scratch. But it felt like we’d ventured into the Old West. There was so much to learn, but everything seemed possible.”
While they lacked the generational knowledge, their enthusiasm and even their naivete seemed to blend perfectly with the sandy soil of northern Michigan, as the farm started to grow as wildly as their crops.
When asked about the decision to maintain a fully organic farm, Brian insists that while it aligns with their personal values, it wasn’t because they were looking to be rebels.
“We knew we’d be the first organic farm in the area,” said Brian. “It’s not to be some sort of counter-culture revolutionary. We believe it is the most sustainable way to grow food, and we want to be part of the solution for the long haul.”
Similar to their organic commitment, the Bateses have also invested in balancing the resources the farm consumes with a commitment to energy. As members of Great Lakes Energy Cooperative, the Bateses have invested in a 30-panel solar array.
“When we first started the farm, we had this idea of making our own energy. We’d never heard of an electric co-op before,” said Brian. “If we support the making of ‘good electrons,’ we feel like the market will see the value in the co-op model and we can all start supporting renewable energy producers.”
With production booming (Bear Creek had their first million-dollar year), a dozen full-time employees, and 85% of their crops sold and consumed within a 12-mile radius of the farm–the idea of the lonesome homestead is long gone. As the Bateses have come to understand and know their community, as well as get more involved in groups like the local Chamber of Commerce, Crooked Tree Arts Center, and Thriving Petoskey, Brian and Anne understand more and more how deeply community affects farm life.
As COVID-19 changed the lives of everyone, often closing people off–the Bateses were faced with the opposite reality. With farmers markets closing, Brian and Anne actually opened Bear Creek Organic Farm up to the public. Intermingling between staff and customers, sharing time and space, and with a passion for lovingly grown food—Bear Creek Organic Farm keeps growing both logistically and communally.
“We started out with this idea of doing everything on our own, but there is nothing sustainable about living on an island of self-reliance,” said Brian. “With every person we’ve met, everyone who has answered a question, or helped fix a tractor or build a greenhouse–we wouldn’t go back to the initial idea. Not when there is this new version with so many beautiful humans rooting for you.”
It looks like another bumper crop of certified organic vegetables, civic engagement, and compassionate community for Bear Creek Organic Farm this year.
In addition to the solar array panel that produces 10kW of renewable energy to the farm, Bear Creek Organic Farm is committed to sustainability in a variety of ways, including:
- Passive solar hoophouses and greenhouses
- Ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel in their tractor
- Clamshells are made in Michigan from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic and are 100% recyclable
- Packaging boxes, flats, and cartons are made 100% recyclable in Michigan
- Transplant containers and propagation flats are made locally, of recycled plastic, and are fully recyclable
- “Plastic” produce bags at their on-farm market are 100% plant-based and 100% biodegradable in normal compost piles
- Paper shopping bags are 100% recycled paper and 100% recyclable
- Beehives are never treated with any fungicides, insecticides, or pesticides, ever
For more information visit bearcreekorganicfarm.com