By Jennifer Earls
PETOSKEY — What started as a presentation about Instagram at the Northern Michigan Small Farms Conference culminated in a beautifully executed farm tour for Emmet County Farm Bureau members and guests Thursday, July 19. Farm Bureau members, guests and elected officials were among the more than 45 attendees who turned out to learn about Sweetwater Lavender Farm from its gracious young owner, Kalin Sheick.
A former morning newscaster seeking a simpler life in fields of flowers, Kalin discovered her passion while working her day job. While interviewing a grower who supplied cut flowers for events, she realized her dream of growing and arranging flowers.
While Kalin is a new farmer, she is a social media maven able to turn a simple post about flowers into a heartfelt memoir about farming fields in northern Michigan sun and following your dreams. Her followers listen, and that’s what piqued the interest of Emmet County Farm Bureau President Bill McMaster when he saw her Instagram discussion last winter.
McMaster owns Bill’s Farm Market, a popular agritourism hotspot just north of Petoskey. He stands strong on his background in growing and harvesting, and admits social media is often the last thing he thinks about.
When Kalin demonstrated her ability to use appealing photographs from her farm on Instagram—and book genuine, good-hearted businesses from it—Bill wanted to share her message and enthusiasm with Farm Bureau members looking to accomplish something similar.
Making a career of farming in northern Michigan can be a tough row to hoe, but being inspired and seeing others accomplishing great things can really improve forward momentum. Thus, a field day tour was planned, and a great number of members attended.
Our tour began with a short discussion titled “What Farm Bureau Means to Me,” in which Emmet County Farm Bureau Board Member Ben Blaho recalled his days growing up on a farm.
To Ben, Farm Bureau means “fresh, healthy food and agriculture in our community. It’s about education and energy, technology and labor, elections and laws. It’s important whether you actively farm or not.”
Kalin then showed the group around her fields to discuss proper growing environment, varieties and weather-related issues her operation has faced.
She has only been growing lavender at Sweetwater Lavender Farm for three years, but she has favorite strains—and they aren’t the purple ones! Each strain grows with a distinct group of features and needs, and Kalin has tailored her hilly farm to hopefully produce the best crop she can.
We were surprised to learn that the source of her income is not at all from growing lavender. The farm’s namesake crop is just one attractive component of a destination location for weddings and events, where pictures will be taken and memories will be made—but it’s not her paycheck.
She moves most of her lavender bushels at a small roadside self-service flower hut at the end of her driveway. People just love fresh lavender! But to make a living solely from those fields would be difficult, so she discussed how growing flowers and lavender helps her feel inspired for the arrangements she makes for weddings—almost 70 per year.
After learning about sandy soil and drainage options, we moved on to a more exciting portion of the event: social hour!
Fresh Lavender Blueberry Ice Cream from Brian’s Ice Cream Experience in Charlevoix (made with local milk from Shetler’s Dairy) was enjoyed by all. Board member Maria Ginop made a delicious spread of farm-fresh foods to enjoy, including lavender biscuits and lavender lemonade iced tea.
All the delicious lavender consumed was freshly picked by Maria at Sweetwater. Seeing where it grows and how it’s used in cooking—then tasting it—opened many doors among the attendees.
The social hour also provided attendees a chance to meet Kalin, Farm Bureau board members and the local elected officials in attendance, including State Senator Wayne Schmidt, State Representative Lee Chatfield and Register of Deeds Karen Cosens.
Among the greatest benefits of Farm Bureau membership is the chance to be heard when it matters, and knowing that all agriculture in the community is being supported. This event really solidified that while we all grow up on different plots of land with different plants or animals, we are all working toward the same goals and want the same greatness from our lives.
We are a farming family growing together for a stronger Michigan—now a very relaxed, lavender-scented family!
Jennifer Earls is the administrative manager for the Emmet, Charlevoix and Antrim County Farm Bureaus.