Cedar Sol Farm
9452 Cedar Rd.
Cedar, MI 49621
Farmers: Michael, Nichole and Parker McHugh.
Products: Outdoor hydroponic strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, onions, beans, herbs and other veggies.
Growing practices: Synthetic chemical-free.
Favorite Tool: Multi-tool Leatherman, scissors, buckets for picking, a wagon, and our hands.
Farm Animals: Naranjo, our barn cat and Alice, our chocolate Lab.
Favorite recipes: Kale chips, strawberry jam, and pickles. All simple recipes, but delicious!
What are some challenges? Staying one step ahead of Mother Nature – bugs, weather, fungus, etc. It is different each year. Just when you think you have it figured out, something different comes along.
Story: Customers have gotten so comfortable here at our farm that we have stumbled upon people napping! We often hear how a trip out back was a spiritual or moving experience. Guests leisurely wander down the towering rows of green goodness. People love to spend time here. We enjoy sharing this bounty with our community as well as with those who have come from afar.
Local food: Food is indicative of a society. Culturally we have strayed from the connection we should have with what fuels our bodies. Fortunately, people are becoming more aware and concerned with where their food comes from. In an area like northern Michigan, where clean, local food is abundant, we as farmers can offer kids as well as adults the opportunity to meet with the people that grow their food in a hands-on, working environment.
Future plans: Becoming more proficient at what we have already begun, perhaps hoop-housing a few of our rows of produce for earlier and later production, expanding the menu a bit at the taco stand and making this farm even more of a sweet oasis for our guests.
Finding the Perfect Spot
By Janice Benson, Taste the Local Difference
Michael, Nichole and son, Parker enjoy working together as a family.
Michael and Nichole McHugh have a quiet contentment that’s both enviable and rare.
“I love getting up and going to my job each day,” shares Michael, “I feel very fortunate.”
It is clear that he and his wife Nichole have found a life that suits them well. They did not start out with a plan to become farmers, but their desire for a good lifestyle for their family led them there.
The two met their first year of college, at Western Michigan University, in Kalamazoo, and they have been together ever since.
Michael grew up in Grosse Pointe, just outside Detroit. When he went to college, he became fascinated with the science of growing in greenhouses and worked in one while attending school. He graduated with a degree in secondary education and took a job at a high school in the Alaskan bush, teaching language arts.
Nichole was raised in Grand Rapids and earned a degree in journalism and art at WMU. In Alaska, she enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Alaska and earned her elementary teaching certificate. Nichole became a 4th grade teacher in Chevak, Alaska.
The couple lived in Alaska for three years before moving on. As they were leaving the Last Frontier, in search for the “ideal place to live,” they found out they were expecting a child. Nichole felt her roots calling, so they drove their small RV across Canada, back to Michigan. As they dropped down into the Lower Peninsula, they put the breaks on in Traverse City and decided it was the perfect place to raise a family.
Once in Traverse, Michael began teaching English at Grand Traverse Academy. When their son Parker was born, they knew they wanted to find a way to spend more time together as a family. They loved teaching, but they also liked the idea of starting a family business.
Michael had another idea, because he’d been researching greenhouses and hydroponics ever since leaving Kalamazoo. He read an article about the Hydro-Stacker system, got to know a farmer who was using it, and then took a three-day class in Florida that left him extremely impressed by the system. The minimal amount of land and water that it requires is as extraordinary as the numerous crops that it can grow. Michael admires the man who invented the hydroponic system, appreciates the detail and ingenuity that went into its design, and respects that the entire system is patented and made in the U.S.A.
After much discussion, and what proved to be the beginning of their professional decision-making together, Michael and Nichole made the leap into farming. While Michael worked at teaching, they scouted for a place to farm. They found the perfect location, with plenty of sunny land and an ideal spot for a farm stand, in Cedar, on the Leelanau Peninsula.
The Hydro-Stacker system allows Cedar Sol Farm to harvest strawberries later in the season.
From the Ground Up
Little by little, Michael dug trenches, laid irrigation, pounded pipe, built stacker towers, and experimented with the system. The couple first planted strawberries, and did so in early spring, so their berries would ripen later than other local strawberries. They saw it as a way to create a niche market—an example of how innovative thinking and hard work can create success.
“Aside from being an incredibly diligent worker and a mindful man, Michael is super-ambitious and creative,” Nichole says, “These qualities have made him very successful.
He built the entire farm with his bare hands, he is always thinking ahead and he follows through with ideas.”
That summer, the strawberries were abundant and flavorful. They did so well that Michael and Nichole started growing all kinds of veggies, including tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, onions, beans, peppers, herbs…and more strawberries.
Encouraged by their success, Michael left his teaching job and began working full-time on the farm with Nichole. They’ve never looked back.
They presently sell their products at their roadside farm stand, farmers markets, Hansen’s, Pegtown Station, and Cedar City Market. They’ve also sold or donated tomatoes and berries to Glen Lake Community School. Their farm is available for u-pick, and they often have students visit on field trips.
In 2011, they took a shot at a new venture: a taco stand. One day, a friend that helps them on the farm made tacos. They were so delicious that that the couple started offering them alongside their veggies at their roadside stand. So now, from Memorial Weekend through September, the Cedar Sol Taco Stand offers pork, chicken, steak and chorizo tacos, a vegan taco of beans and veggies, and quesadillas.
The stand was a huge success and brought in so many new customers that they were able to make most of their produce sales right on the farm.
“We have spent a small fortune in advertising the past few years in an effort to promote our farm,” says Nichole. “This season, we simply put up a painted plywood sign along the road that read Tacos, and it brought in copious amounts of customers.”
Cedar Sol is now also the Michigan distributor for Hydro-Stacker. With urban farming on the rise, the green movement in schools, and population increases in general, the couple travels around the state broadcasting the benefits of hydroponics and demonstrating the value of the Hydro-Stacker system.
Michael and Nichole are both still teachers at heart. They believe strongly in educating for the future. So Michael gives hydroponic demonstrations in schools and works closely with Grand Traverse Academy and Interlochen Elementary School, while Nichole substitute teaches and volunteers for Glen Lake Community School.
Though they do not suggest that farming is easy, their happiness is apparent.
“I love living the same life as my family. We really enjoy each other and being together in our work,” says Nichole.
And they love the connection they feel with the environment. “We’re really in touch with nature,” explains Michael. “When you lose all your tomatoes to an early frost or you battle a pest, or a deer nibbles all the ripened fruit, the loss is real and profound.
“We genuinely appreciate it when people buy our food. We know they are going to enjoy it, and that is very satisfying,” he adds. “It’s great hearing people at our market calling home on their cell phone saying, ‘I’m at the farm stand. What kind of tacos do you want?’”