9 Bean Rows
5441 N. Overlook Rd.
Northport, MI 49670
Farmers: Jen and Nic Welty
Number of employees: 12-15 employees through the summer, plus a fulltime person in the bakery and two part-time bakers. Our goal is to add one fulltime person every year.
Products: Fruits, veggies, and baked goods, including baguette, sourdough, whole wheat, pain au levain, light rye, sea salt fennel, ciabatta, and light wheat breads.
Production: We bake 1,000 loaves of bread each week and 2,000 croissants each week during the summer.
Favorite Tool: Our broad fork. We use the no-till method of gardening, so it's the tool we use the most.
Farm Animal: A Great Pyrennes dog coming in the near future!
Favorite Recipe: Our hoophouse baby salad greens, Halpin goat cheese, sliced GingerGold apples from Stu Whittaker, orange-coated candied walnuts, ver jus vinaigrette, and toasted bread with raclette.
Why do you love farming? If you love eating, you'll either be a farmer or a consumer! We love that we can walk out the door and get amazing food you can't get anywhere else. And for the sheer science of it!
What's challenging about farming?
Financing. Having two locations. The expense of equipment. Labor costs: finding good, hard workers.
What are most proud of? In 2008, after going out on our own, we were able to hire 15 employees in just three years! We're proud to be able to provide those jobs. And we're proud of the customers who come and support us religiously!
Future plans: Having one location for baking, CSA packing, and our café. Our next focus will be to grow our own rye, followed by wheat. And we hope to be able to go to more farmers markets in Northport, Glen Arbor, and Traverse City.
Part Farm, Part Bakery
By Janice Benson, Taste the Local Difference
Jen manages the baking side of the business, and Nic manages the farm
It takes just three words to sum up one of the best things happening in our region: 9 Bean Rows.
In just a few short years, Nic and Jen Welty have created one of the most promising and exciting food businesses in northern Michigan.
Part burgeoning farm, part bustling bakery, 9 Bean Rows is a powerful convergence of the skills this incredible couple possesses.
Nic grew up on a large farm in northeast Ohio, where his father raised corn, soybeans, and pigs. From an early age, nature and science fascinated him; he enjoyed experimenting, raising different crops, and discovering how things grow and how they work.
When he was 13, he took a shot at raising pumpkins; it was such a success that he ended up making more money per acre than his father did with corn and soybeans. That was quite a surprise to both of them!
Nic followed his passion for science and went to Ohio State University, where he earned a double major in biology and economics and a minor in chemistry. He went on to graduate school and received a master’s degree in tomato genetics.
Jen was born in Ohio and grew up in Rockford, Mich. From childhood on, she knew she loved working with her hands and being outdoors. When she was in high school, she took an organic gardening class and learned about French intensive gardening methods, which she found intriguing.
She attended Ohio State University to pursue a degree in agriculture. While there, she worked at a French bakery in Columbus and quickly discovered that her great love was baking. She learned to make bread and pastries from a chef that influenced her life.
“I remember conversations about the farms back in France and the fresh food. That was the beginning for me. I fell in love with bread, food, farming, wine, the whole nine yards,” she recalls.
Something else important happened at Ohio State, too: She and Nic met. They knew immediately that they both shared a passion for food, farming, and each other!
After graduating, Jen received an internship from Black Star Farms, in Suttons Bay. So she moved back to Michigan, and Nic commuted back and forth to Ohio while working on his graduate degree.
Jen worked in the tasting room at Black Star Farms and also started a farm market there. The farm purchased a wood-fired oven, and Jen began baking bread and selling it at the market.
She quickly gained a good reputation and a loyal following of customers who couldn’t wait for her next loaf of bread or batch of amazing croissants.
When Nic was done with school, he got a job at Black Star, too, as its CSA Farm Manager. Together, they started the Black Star Farms CSA, in 2006.
The next year, Black Star Farms became one of five farms selected for Michigan State University’s Project Green—a pilot project that built passive-solar hoophouses on farms to research season-extension opportunities in Michigan. The couple used this as a way to expand the CSA and experiment with year-round crops.
Adding a hoophouse increased their year-round production.
At the same time, they purchased their own 11-acre farmstead, in Northport. They were excited: the land was jam-packed with wild and cultivated edibles, including wild leeks, blackberries, red raspberries, wild apple trees, choke cherries, asparagus, rhubarb, table grapes, garlic, walnut trees, maples, and a forest full of edible wild mushrooms.
They added a hoophouse of their own to increase their year-round production.
About that time, Don Coe, managing partner of Black Star Farms, asked them if they would like to make the businesses they were developing at Black Star their own. Nic and Jen saw this as an incredible opportunity.
So in 2008 they branched out on their own, renting land at Black Star Farms, farming their own land, and also land at nearby Cherry Basket Farm, in Omena. They soon added a second hoophouse on their own property; their business has been growing steadily every since.
Jen manages the baking side of the business, and Nic manages the farm. Together they oversee their CSA operation and regularly attend the Northport, Glen Arbor, and Traverse City farmers markets. They also sell baked goods wholesale to coffee shops and other local businesses, and occasionally have extra produce that they sell to restaurants.
For their CSA, they grow a wide variety of vegetables and fruits and offer four separate season shares—one of the few year-round options in the region. They usually have between 40 and 60 shareholders, who, in addition to receiving vegetables and fruits, get eggs, chickens, baked goods, sometimes pasta, pies, and maple syrup, depending on the season.
In 2010, to the delight of local customers, they opened 9 Bean Rows Bakery in Traverse City! The bakery stays busy, with regulars stopping in for one of Jen’s amazing treats.
Jen shares her philosophy: “To most in the culinary world, the holy trinity is carrots, celery and onions. To me it’s flour, water and salt.” She uses only the best ingredients; many items come right from their farm, including fresh eggs, fruit, and herbs.
Nic and Jen have no plans to slow down anytime soon. “Our next focus is to grow our own rye and wheat—both major tasks.”
The couples’ passion for food now inspires many local foodies. We can’t wait to see what they come up with next!