Recipients of Michigan Farm Bureau’s (MFB) Young Farmer Agriculture Leader Award earn the honor through outstanding leadership in Farm Bureau, agriculture and their local communities. Contestants are judged on their ability to actively serve in leadership roles while managing a successful farm operation.
This year’s recipient is Mecosta County’s Natalie Pennington, who operates a prosperous farm market and agritourism destination near Remus.
What began as a single card table selling vegetables by the side of the road has bloomed into a substantial destination enterprise dealing in fruits and vegetables, meat and eggs, honey, maple syrup, greenhouse plants, flowers and locally created crafts. Pennington’s market is an agritourism success story, with revenue linked directly to attractions like a haunted maze and pumpkin patch, pedal tractors, ropes course and petting farm.
The family farm she took over already had a lucrative business, selling as many as 10 semi loads of pumpkins to a major Michigan-based retailer. Pennington has boosted the enterprise by marketing produce directly to consumers from the farm itself, and diversifying its commodity spectrum to maximize the farm’s appeal.
Starting in 2013, the farm incorporated a community-supported agriculture (CSA) sideline, quickly progressing from a just-friends test group to networking with two large nearby hospitals, a local factory and now half a dozen nearby schools. A promising new addition is a mobile farm-to-table kitchen, deployed for on-site dinner events and producing the market’s daily supply of baked goods.
Pennington’s passion for agriculture is key to the operation’s success.
“My passion for farming delights customers to continue to venture to our farm,” she said, noting that her CSA customers prefer picking up their produce at the farm instead of having it delivered. “They enjoy engaging me in farming conversations and are genuinely interested in the welfare of the farm.”
The farm’s future will focus on growth, beginning with expanded production of fruits, vegetables and livestock. Dairy production and processing is being carefully considered, as are cider mill, meat processing and bakery facilities.
Pennington boasts an all-star track record of Farm Bureau involvement, with particular emphasis on the Young Farmer and Promotion and Education programs. She’s taken part in both the Lansing and Washington Legislative Seminars, and represented Mecosta County Farm Bureau as a voting delegate at the MFB Annual Meeting.
Outside Farm Bureau her volunteerism extends to local school, church and business groups, often including tours of her farm and market. She’s also active in her church’s youth ministry, school, choir and missionary work in the Caribbean and Central America.
The Young Agriculture Leader winner receives a New Holland compact tractor or Rustler utility vehicle lease from Burnips Equipment, an AgroLiquid gift certificate and a paid trip to the AFBF 99th Annual Meeting, sponsored by the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture.
The other finalists for this year’s Young Farmer Leader Award were Rita Herford, Huron County; Blake Gordon, Sanilac County; and Jarris Rubingh, Antrim County.
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