Farm Bureau tour will show diversity of Mason County farming.

July 28, 2017

Farm Bureau tour will show diversity of Mason County farming.

#MasonCountyAgriculture

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

AMBER TOWNSHIP/SCOTTVILLE —Michigan is ranked as the second most diverse agricultural state in the country, second only to California. Within the state, Mason County is one of the most diverse agricultural counties. The Mason County Farm Bureau will spotlight some of the county’s diversity with a free public farm tour on Saturday, Aug. 19. The tour will focus on farms in Amber Township and the City of Scottville.

The tour will begin with registration and greetings at 9 a.m. at Amber Elk Ranch, 2688 W. Conrad Road, Amber Township. Buses will leave there at 9:30 a.m. and head over to Conrad Farms, 2133 W. Conrad Road, Amber Township, where owners Pete and Connie Conrad will discuss the farm’s chestnut operation. From there, the tour will continue at Gourmet Mushrooms, Inc., 506 E. State St., Scottville, and tour the mushroom-growing facility. The tour then will head over to Alway’s Shady Lane Farm, 2144 W. Johnson Road, Amber Township, for a tour of the farm’s hop yard and also its collection of over 30 restored antique John Deere tractors. The stop will also include a refreshment break.

The tour will then continue at Starving Artist Brewery, 634 S. Stiles Road, Amber Township, where participants will be able to tour one of Michigan’s smallest, but fastest growing, breweries and also sample its products (must be 21-years-old or older to sample).

The final stop will be Amber Elk Ranch where guests will be treated to lunch and have the option to take wagon tours of the ranch (there is a fee for the wagon tours).

“Many people are unaware that next to tourism, farming is this county’s top industry,” said Seth Earl, president of Mason County Farm Bureau. “This tour is an opportunity for the public to learn more about that industry and also the diversity of farming within Mason County.  “It is incredible that even just in the small geographical area of this tour, Amber Township and the City of Scottville, we have five agricultural businesses that offer unique commodities.”

The farm tour is sponsored by Farm Bureau Insurance, Peterson & Sons Excavating, and Mason County Farm Bureau.

The farm tour is free for those who RSVP by Friday, Aug. 4 by calling Seth Earl at  517-812-4132 or emailing at [email protected].

About the farms:

Connie and Pete Conrad of Conrad Farms

Conrad Farms.  The farm’s origins date back to the mid-1880s, making it one of the oldest, continuously operated farms in Mason County. Pete Conrad is the fifth generation of Conrad to farm in Amber Township. He and his wife, Connie, live on Conrad Road just about a mile from the original farmstead.

The 520 acre farm grows a variety of traditional west Michigan crops: asparagus, snap beans, corn, wheat, and rye. But, the conversation piece on the farm is its 9 acres of chestnuts. So much so, that Pete even installed a sign at the corner of Conrad and Stiles roads that explains what types of trees are located in the orchard there.

“We got introduced to chestnuts about 15 years ago,” Pete says. “There was a gentleman at the farm who was there on agriculture business. Among other things, he was growing chestnuts at his Grand Haven farm. He left some literature and Connie found it intriguing. I had only had field crops up until that point and hadn’t grown trees on the farm.”

Conrad Farms is part of a cooperative of growers, called Chestnut Growers, Inc., that is made up of over 30 farms from throughout the Lower Peninsula. The coop sells its chestnuts to individual grocers, distribution centers for chain grocery stores, and restaurants.

Chestnut harvest takes place in the early fall, typically in late September or early October.

Gourmet Mushrooms is one of Scottville’s largest employers

Gourmet Mushrooms. The origins of this facility date back to the early 1900s when the R.W. Roach Canning Company processed green beans. That tradition continued with Stokely-Van Camp into the 1990s and was a major employer in the City of Scottville. In the early 2000s, the facility was converted to a mushroom-growing plant. That particular operation was unsuccessful, however, and was purchased in 2015 by Gourmet Mushrooms of Sebastopol, Cali. The company, which sells under the brand name Mycopia Gourmet Mushrooms, is now second largest employer in the city limits, second to Mason County Central Schools. It currently employs over 60 people.

Alway’s Shady Lane Farm: From left, Dick, Rick, Tom, Rob.

Alway’s Shady Lane Farm. Johnson Road, between Stiles and Amber roads, is covered by a massive hardwood canopy, a shady lane. This is where W.G. Alway, an attorney from Scottville, decided to begin a hobby farm out in the country in 1927. His son, Tom, and wife Helen, turned the farm into a full time profession, raising their children Dick and Beth there. An entrepreneurial spirit led Tom and Dick to start a John Deere dealership in 1966.

Through the years the farm raised animals, mostly poultry, and was once the top supplier of eggs for many area grocers and restaurants. The dealership closed in the late ‘80s and today the farm raises asparagus and cash crops.

In 2015, Dick’s sons: Tom, Rick, and Rob, began raising hop on one acre. The operation has expanded to two acres this year with plans for an increase in the future. Through the years, Dick’s love of all things Deere, led to a hobby of restoring antique John Deere tractors. His collection currently has over 30, with the oldest being a 1929 Model D.

Brewer/owner Andy Thomas along with brewer Jerry Bromley

Starving Artist Brewery. The setting for the brewery — a tree-lined narrow Stiles Road south of U.S. 10-31 — is certainly one that inspires creativity. Behind Andrew’s historic farm house is a little red barn which is now home of Starving Artists Brewery, the county’s second brewery.

What makes Starving Artist Brewing Company unique is that it is most likely be the smallest brewery in Michigan. In its two years of existence, however, the beer’s brands have become favorites among connoisseurs across west Michigan.

Andy uses as many local products as possible in his beer, including local hops.

“I just love the community that craft beer creates,” Andy says. “There are very few industries that you can look at on the inside. Your biggest competitor can be your best friend. It’s a unique quality. The same goes for the people who drink craft beer. These aren’t the type of people who are looking to drink long-necks on a Saturday night. These are people who are looking for something unique. It’s awesome that you can go to a different region and experience a whole different type of beer.”

Tours at Amber Elk Ranch

Amber Elk Ranch. Boasting over 200 elk, the Amber Elk Ranch is the largest elk ranch in Michigan. With 5.5 miles of fencing surrounding the 130 acres, the ranch is home to many cows, bulls and calves. Owner Bob Northrup is proud to be able to keep the ranch open and striving when so many other ranches have had to close their doors throughout the last 20 years.

“There are not too many places in the world where you get to see the animals we have here,” Northrup said. “We have some of the biggest in the world.” Northrup started the ranch in 1998 with a partner. They got their first elk in 1999. In 2006, Northrup bought his partner out becoming the sole owner of the ranch.

Northrup has always been an avid hunter and decided to get involved with the ranch after many trips out west to do different big game hunting.

“I just think elk are really cool,” he said. “I went out west and I was around them a lot more.”

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