The Land: Orchard Market, a farm to table legacy.

May 19, 2016
From left: Kyle Malkowski, Bob Malkowski, Bill Sturgeon.

From left: Kyle Malkowski, Bob Malkowski, Bill Sturgeon.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

FREE SOIL TOWNSHIP — Today, we begin a new series, “The Land,” celebrating area farmers and others who work in the agriculture industry. There was a time when growing up on a family farm was common place, especially in communities here in west Michigan. Today, there is a much higher disconnect between the farm and the population. Though agriculture remains one of the top industries in Michigan and there is more awareness of sustainability, including the “farm to table” movement, a lot of people seem unaware of where their food comes from. This series will introduce you to those who take care of the land and tell their stories. 

We begin with Orchard Market. You may know Orchard Market for one of its two locations: at the corner of US 31 and Free Soil Road or on South Pere Marquette Highway in Pere Marquette Township. But, the stores are just the result of a family’s hard work to bring you fresh food.

Peaches blossom.

Peaches blossom.

Orchard Market began in 1960 by Edward Malkowski. In a sense, the operation is Mason County’s oldest “farm to table” operation. After his investment partner left, Edward added four of his sons to the operation: Leonard, Gerald, Dan and Bob. Daughter Mary Helen Savich was also part of the operation and managed the family restaurant. Sons Ed and David pursued careers in education — Ed retired as a principal at Mason County Central Schools while David retired as an elementary teacher at Mason County Eastern Schools.

As the brothers each retired, a third generation has taken over the operation. Bob’s son, Kyle, and his son-in-law Bill Sturgeon are now the owners. The farm consists of 250 acres in Free Soil and Grant townships. It grows a variety of crops including apples, tart cherries, sweet corn, peaches, strawberries, squash, pumpkins and cabbage.

“What we don’t grow, we try to purchase from other local growers,” Bill says.

Kyle manages the farm while Bill manages the markets.

“Edward and his sons did a lot of expansion over the years,” Bill says. “It started out as just a little stand on the corner of US 31 and Free Soil Road. Now we have two markets and numerous employees.”

Bill says they are proud that they grow high quality crops and are up to date in all the standard practices of modern and safe agriculture.

A view inside the Free Soil market.

A view inside the Free Soil market.

“Kyle and I have spent a lot of time meeting environmental certifications,” Bill says. “We are not an organic farm but we are conservative in our use of herbicides. We take our responsibility as farmers very serious in knowing that we are growing food that people eat and we know that sprays have to be applied safely. We are always asking the question, ‘how will this affect the consumer? Will they be happy with the quality?’”

Bill began working for orchard market when he was dating Amanda Malkowski. “Fifteen years ago I was going to college and my future father-in-law, Bob, asked me if I would be interested in working at the market while I was going to school. After I graduated from college, I continued to work there. I started out stocking shelves in the store. I then progressed to working out in the fields and I eventually learned all aspects of the business. I find it fascinating. I am constantly learning. Of course, our great employees make my job easy. They are really what makes us a quality operation.”

Bill says he and Kyle hope to keep the tradition of Orchard Market being a family business going for many years to come. “It’s been a great 15 years and I am planning on being here another 50.”

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