9339 Atwood Rd. Charlevoix, MI 49720
Farmers: Russ and Cindy Bolt, and brother, Robert Bolt. In the summers, their son and daughter help out.
Products: Sweet corn, winter squash, tomatoes, pumpkins, melons, peppers, onions, leeks, beets, beans, cabbage, broccoil, asparagus, strawberries, and more.
Production: 300 tons of pumpkins each year and 120,000 ears of corn each year.
Favorite Farm Equipment: My combine
Favorite Recipe: Roasted and pickled asparagus
What do you love about farming?
I've always enjoyed growing things. I like being outside, in the country. I could never see myself sitting behind a desk. I like working for myself, being my own boss, making my own decisions and mistakes.
What are some challenges? Labor, energy costs, land availability, deer damage.
What's unique about your operation? My sweet corn. I have a good following for it and people know me for that.
What are you proud of about your farm?That it's paid for and I didn't inherit it. This is a first generation farm.
Advice to new farmers: Know what you're getting into and crunch your numbers. You can't take a job you hate. With farming, you're doing something on your own, growing food for yourself and others. When you grow it yourself, you know it's safe, and you feel better about it. We don't ever buy beef or vegetables, because we grow our own. I'll always encourage people to do this.
From Eastern Market to Northern Michigan
By Janice Benson, Taste the Local Difference
Russ Bolt has been gardening since he was a kid. Photo by John Russell.
Sometimes, one thing really does lead to another.
When Russ Bolt was a child, his mother took him to the Royal Oak farmers market or Eastern Market every Saturday. Young Russ liked what he saw there, thanks to his upbringing.
“My mother always had a garden when I was growing up and that had an influence on me,” he said. “I always liked growing things and seeing what other people grew.”
Then one of the people he met at Eastern Market, an “old guy named Milo,” did something unusual: “He gave me some fertile eggs, and I hatched them in an incubator in my basement, at home. Before long I was raising poultry!”
He was also trying to learn more about farming. While still a youngster, he always spent a week at the Michigan State Fair, in Detroit—one of his favorite weeks of the year.
“That Fair was amazing,” he remembers.
But Russ’ talented artist parents were headed in another direction, and moved the family up north when he was in high school. They opened an art gallery in Charlevoix, which they still run today: The Bolt Grangehall Pottery and Print Shop.
Yet Russ continued to be keenly interested in growing things, so he made a point of working for different farmers during high school. Then he attended Michigan State University, took horticulture classes, learned about crops and soils, and got especially interested in growing vegetables.
“I figured it was the fastest way to generate income,” he says.
But he needed to save up money to buy some land. He moved out West, worked in the Wyoming oil fields for four years, saved all his money, and bought his own farm, on Atwood Rd., in Charlevoix.
“This is a first-generation farm,” he says proudly, “ I did this myself.”
Russ soon married his girlfriend Cindy and they settled down and raised two children on the farm. For many years, Cindy worked as a nurse for Munson Hospital, while Russ worked full-time on the farm.
And when Cindy was in Traverse City she would sell their produce to local stores.
The Bolt's Farm has a loyal following for what they grow, especially their sweet corn.
“It was really tough to crack into the markets,” recalls Russ, but eventually they sold their produce to Prevo’s, Hansen’s, Tom’s Food Markets, and other local stores.
Then Cindy started growing flowers. Soon they were selling both vegetables and flowers around the area. Russ’ brother, Robert, also began working on the farm.
For a number of years they sold their produce to bigger produce houses downstate. In recent years, however, they’ve focused on local sales; little by little they expanded their business throughout the region.
They also began raising beef cattle, in 1988.
“We started with just two cows and now we raise over 100 cattle,” says Russ. He sells some cows to local families, but most are purchased as calves by other farmers in the area. He also raises 200 acres of field corn and 200 acres of hay.
Cindy now works full-time for Grandvue Nursing Home, in East Jordan; Russ and Robert manage the farm operation. They sell their products at their farm, as well as at the Boyne City and Charlevoix farmers markets and at local grocers, including Glen’s, Tom’s Food Markets, Oleson’s Food Stores, and Save A Lot in East Jordan.
They grow a wide variety of vegetables, including sweet corn, winter squash, tomatoes, pumpkins, melons, peppers, onions, leeks, beets, beans, cabbage, broccoil, asparagus, strawberries, and more.
Guaranteed: Hard Work and Satisfaction
“I’ve had customers that come back to the farm every year for the last 20 years,” says Russ. “I appreciate that. People stop me on the street and tell me how good the corn is. That keeps you going every year. When people tell you how much they love the product, that makes it all worthwhile.”
Though Russ loves farming, he is the first to tell you that it isn’t easy.
“Farming is a tough life, but it’s also a personally rewarding life. You better have a real love for it. But if you really like it, you can do it.”
“People don’t realize the labor requirements are so high,” he adds. “I need up to four workers each summer. My biggest challenge is a steady labor force.”
“There’s a real need for farmers, big and small,” he observes. “I’ll always encourage people to farm. If people have a piece of land, I always encourage them to grow some food. It gives you an appreciation for what it takes to grow things.”
Russ is proud of what he’s accomplished: He’s one of the largest vegetable growers in northwest Michigan; he’s paid off the cost of the farm; he has loyal customers.
“My mom really encouraged me to do this,” he says. “She had a love for animals and growing things, and I guess I do, too."