by Julie Kibler
Our family was recently invited to visit the Visser Farm in Zeeland, MI. We started ordering from them this summer for our café, and we were both eager to learn more about their farming philosophy. We do our best to only select local farms who stand behind a moral obligation to the land they’re growing on. To be honest, I was skeptical. I had always considered them to be a local farm that was “too big.” I wanted to see what kind of farm they really were.
We arrived around 5pm. The farm was still a buzz with people busy sorting produce and trucks being loaded with orders. Case Visser, who manages the farms’ restaurant accounts, met us in the driveway. We all piled into his pick-up truck and began our trip into the fields. We started with the root vegetables. Potatoes are their most lucrative crop. It is the Midwest after all. We can attest to the allure of the Visser potatoes. People who frequently order our Hot Mess skillet immediately noticed a difference when we started buying from Visser. Out guests exclaimed about how velvety and delicious our new yellow potatoes were. That really sold us.
Visser Farms is not certified organic, but they have a commitment to sustainability and only using spray as a last effort on their products. This year was a great year for potatoes, for instance. Of the seven types of potatoes they grow, they only had to treat the Russet variety this year. “We try to keep the soil as healthy as possible,” said Case, “I want this land to be here for my grandkids.” While touring the farm, we were happy to see weeds growing right along with the plants. Certain types of “weeds” can have a beneficial impact on the produce, and actually help with soil fertility. Any weeding that takes place is done by hand.
The Visser farmers use centuries old farm management techniques. Crops get rotated 3 times during the season, with the exception of onions. They still use good old-fashioned manure to fertilize crops. Vegetables that don’t get sold at the farmer’s market are added as a supplement to the manure. It all goes back to the land. That’s the way it should be in our opinion. They even have an old farm dog, Bear, to help keep the pests away. Esau really enjoyed cheering on the dog while she ran to keep up with the truck between stops.
So, they’re not “organic”, but they’re damn close. They never use GMO seeds for their crops… not even their corn. Vegetables are ripened in field, not on a truck driving cross-country. This experience made it clear why 34 other restaurants in town use their produce, and I am incredibly excited to be using them as well.